The city of Statesboro and the Bulloch County government appear to be at an impasse, today at least, on an agreement to divide a proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Unless an intergovernmental agreement can be reached by mid-January, the county may have to delay a T-SPLOST referendum suggested for May 22. The county could also bring a referendum on its own without an agreement, but would be limited to three-fourths of a penny tax instead of the full cent.
One major sticking point is that the city wants credit for having roughly as many miles of paved roads or streets as the county, but without considering the county’s extensive network of dirt roads, said Chairman Roy Thompson of the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners.
“One thing I think that’s been discounted is the 800 miles of dirt roads that we have in the county, and that is major, major, major issues,” Thompson said in a Tuesday phone interview.
That compares with about 500 miles of paved roadways in the county and another 500 in the city, he said. At least one Statesboro official, City Councilman Phil Boyum, had cited an equality of mileage but noted that this wasn’t including the unpaved roads, Thompson noted.
“That’s exactly where our difference is at,” he said. “It’s where Roy Thompson’s difference is, and the other commissioners agree. You cannot not count the dirt roads, because that’s where we spend megabucks. You know, every time it rains we have to scrape them, in addition to the 30-day cycle that we have to have them scraped, and pulling ditches, and trimming trees. They’re major in transportation.”
After Statesboro City Council voted 4-0, with one member absent, the morning of Dec. 5 to back what city officials considered a compromise offer, with the city to accept 44.65 percent of the revenue during the five-year run of the tax, the county commissioners voted 6-0 that evening to insist on an earlier county proposal. That wasn’t counting Thompson, who would vote only in case of a tie, but included a commissioner who attended by internet videophone, Thompson said.
The county’s unchanged proposal would give Statesboro a 41 percent share up to the more certain total revenue projection of $48 million over five years, and a 49.2 percent share of any additional revenue up to the proposed $60 million cap. This would average out to a 45 percent share only if the higher total were realized.
Both Statesboro and the county support giving the smaller cities larger shares than indicated by their populations alone.
Based on the commissioners’ vote and with their instructions, County Manager Tom Couch sent Statesboro City Manager Randy Wetmore a letter Friday afternoon stating that the city could either take the county’s offer or leave it, with today, Dec. 13, being the deadline to let the county know.
What the commissioners unanimously backed was the proposal Couch had given city officials Nov. 20, he noted.
“The Commissioners further directed me to convey that the terms of the counterproposal constitute their final offer of the proposed Bulloch County Transportation SPLOST proceeds, and they will not consider any further provisions to those terms,” Couch wrote.
Differences of opinion between the two largest players by population had been aired during a Dec. 1 meeting of the mayors of Brooklet, Portal, Register and Statesboro with Thompson, Couch and some other city and county officials.
In that earlier meeting Boyum objected to the tiered approach to Statesboro’s revenue share – but not tiered projections of revenue as such – and asserted a 47 percent share for Statesboro.
Earlier, Statesboro officials had asserted a claim of “daytime population” exceeding the city’s 2010 census share of 40.5 percent of Bulloch County’s population. Going into the Dec. 1 meeting, the county offered to work with a 2015 census estimate in which Statesboro residents made up more than 42 percent of the county’s population.
But in Friday’s letter, the county explicitly rejected the city’s claims based on the idea that Statesboro has an even larger “daytime population” with people coming to school and work.
Couch wrote that the county had also raised the idea of “identifying potential joint projects either within, or proximate to, the City of Statesboro that could produce mutual benefits” and might consider other objective criteria but found “a continuing reluctance to expand the dialogue in that direction.”
“Unfortunately, we find that it is not legitimate to consider the types of daytime population counts or other inferences offered by the City of Statesboro that are indistinct or unsupported,” he wrote.
The compromise offer that Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore had made late in the Dec. 1 intergovernmental meeting was based on making 45 percent Statesboro’s share, then reducing this and the county’s share by a fraction to give the smaller cities more. Her proposal was for 49.75 percent to go to the county, 44.65 percent to Statesboro, 3.2 percent to Brooklet, 1.6 percent to Portal and 0.9 percent to Register.
That proposal was the basis of the 4-0 vote by Statesboro City Council last week to accept 44.65 percent of the revenue. In making the motion, Boyum called it “a good compromise for all five entities.” However, he also referred to the supposed equality of city and county paved road mileage, minus dirt roads.
“The county manager all but said during the meeting that when you take the dirt roads out of the equation that the county and the city have about an equal burden as far as transportation,” Boyum said. “Yeah, the county has longer roads, but we have higher density roads, more traffic, curbing, more complicated roads, but as far as the system, we’re equal partners.”
Noting that time was slipping away to meet the requirements for a May referendum, Couch in his letter asked the city to respond no later than Wednesday, accepting the county’s terms.
“If not, then the Commissioners have instructed me that they will consider the options of delaying the May 2018 referendum, or proceeding to call a referendum without an intergovernmental agreement,” Couch wrote.
No meeting today
Last week’s meeting was City Council’s final scheduled meeting of 2017 and the last of Moore’s tenure as mayor since she lost her bid re-election. In Athens on Tuesday attending a meeting of the Fanning Leadership Institute board, she said she would not be in town to call a meeting, but had suggested to council members that they could do so. Two members can call a meeting in the absence of the mayor.
“Given everyone’s schedule this time of year, there was not enough time to get together a special, called meeting to discuss it and give an answer back,” Moore said.
Wetmore, the city manager, sent Couch an email late Tuesday afternoon.
“Thank you for the email of last Friday afternoon regarding the position of the County Commission on T-SPLOST funding,” Wetmore wrote. “Due to the schedules of the City Council members, we were not able to convene a Special meeting in the very short time frame you provided that the City must respond. If you have any questions, let me know.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.