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Counties may get more say when it comes to SPLOST
State bill would allow local leaders to abandon projects
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A new bill introduced into the Georgia House of Representatives may give counties more flexibility in how special purpose local option sales tax dollars are spent.

House Bill 240 would grant counties the ability to abandon an infeasible SPLOST project with the blessing of voters and use the allocated money to pay down debt or help reduce taxes.

Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said the group is very supportive of the bill.

Currently, SPLOST law does not allow governments to abandon a project under any circumstances. Mueller said counties need to have that option.

"Things change in the future, and they can't always predict changes that will come about in the future that may make a project at one point in history look like a good idea, but now for some reason it's not financially viable or for some reason it doesn't make sense anymore," Mueller said.

Many counties end up left with no options if a project becomes a struggle.

"Legally, they cannot spend the money on anything else so the money sits there indefinitely," Mueller said. "In our opinion, that's not want the voters and taxpayers want."

Hall County Public Information Officer Nikki Young said such a law would likely help Hall County in its current SPLOST.

"Hall County agrees that local governments across the state could benefit from more flexibility due to the poor economic conditions," Young said.

"Early SPLOST VI projections show the county collecting $33.5 million in fiscal year 2010. We only collected $25 million, so that's about 25 percent less than anticipated. At this point, we don't expect to collect the full $240 million. That means there may be projects that don't happen under this SPLOST.

"The commission will have to prioritize the projects, and it would help to have more flexibility under the law."

Young said that under state law, if less money is collected, the county and its cities all receive less money proportionally. According to the county's SPLOST VI agreement with Gainesville, the city received more money up front to fund its new public safety building. But if the city has received more than its share at the end of the six-year term, it must repay the county with interest under the agreement.

Mueller said another reason governments could benefit from the bill is the ability to provide more detailed descriptions of SPLOST projects to voters.

Currently, most governments word their SPLOST referendums very loosely to provide wiggle room for changes to projects that may crop up.

"We've almost incentivized counties and cities to be vague because they had no mechanism to abandon it," Mueller said. "The SPLOSTs in these tough economic times are getting tougher to pass. Counties and cities need better tools to market this to the public."

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