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SPLOST results can be slow to show

Projects sometimes take years to complete

POSTED: October 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Many know of SPLOST as a tiny tax with a funny acronym, but a lot happens between the time the 1-cent sales tax is collected and the capital projects are completed.

Some projects, like the new jail that was approved in SPLOST V in 2004, were completed right away, while others, like the Mulberry Creek Community Center, take more time.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners just voted to begin construction on the new South Hall community center Thursday, even though the project was of those approved for funding through SPLOST IV in 1999.

So why has it taken almost 10 years to start the Mulberry Creek Community Center?

Each special purpose local option sales tax — there have been five so far in Hall County — lasts for five years.

Tim Sims, Hall County’s purchasing manager, said often it can take years after a project was voted on before it is actually complete.

"We prioritize them by need," he said, so often parks and leisure projects take a back seat to more immediate needs like road repairs. "Those community centers were kind of put off to the fifth year of the SPLOST."

Sims also said the Mulberry Creek Community Center was delayed because affordable land to build on was difficult to find in South Hall. So in order to have as much money left over as possible after purchasing the land, it was necessary to wait.

The jail however, was an immediate need, because the old county jail had run out of room, and the county was paying to house prisoners in outside facilities.

Sims said the jail was started so early that the county took out a loan in order to begin construction and paid it back as the sales taxes started coming in.

But that’s not the usual practice. Sims said Hall County almost always waits until the money is collected before starting on any projects. It typically takes about two months before enough revenue is collected.

"It’s just, we first have to wait on the revenue to come in," Sims said. "We don’t really like to start projects when we don’t have the means to pay for it. We have to pace ourselves."

And because the sales tax spans a period of five years, it takes the whole time to collect the entire amount that will be spent.

"July 1 of 2004 was when we started collecting this last SPLOST," said Sims. "We will not actually have all the money until June 30, 2009."

For that reason, the average life of a SPLOST project is typically seven to eight years, Sims said.

And when it comes to getting SPLOST projects, everybody wants a piece of the pie.

But because there is a limited amount of money to work with, the Hall County Board of Commissioners must cull the list of requests from county departments and the county’s other municipalities.

Sims said the commission tries to pick the projects that will benefit the most people. And population affects how much money each city will get.

For example, as Hall County’s largest city, Gainesville, will receive $35 million of SPLOST money, much smaller Lula gets less than $2 million.

"It’s the fairest and best way to complete capital projects," Sims said.



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