The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and Statesboro City Council on Tuesday both unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement for what would be the county’s first sales tax specifically for transportation projects.
The Portal and Register councils had already approved the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax agreement, and Brooklet City Council is slated to act on it at 7 p.m. Thursday. Officials hope to hold a little ceremony Friday to sign it. But a majority of county voters in a referendum, proposed for May 22, would have to approve for the 1 percent tax to take effect for 60 months beginning Oct. 1.
Based on current sales figures, the T-SPLOST is projected to net at least $48 million in those five years, and that amount is referred to as Tier 1 funding. Any revenue in excess of $48 million, up to a $60 million total at which the tax is capped, is Tier 2.
“We’re ecstatic that T-SPLOST was approved this morning, and we hope that the citizens will approve it,” Chairman Roy Thompson said after the county commissioners’ morning meeting. “It sure would be worthwhile as far as funding transportation.”
With the added sales tax, people from other counties who work, study and shop in Bulloch would be helping to pay for its transportation infrastructure, Thompson noted earlier. Using T-SPLOST to fund transportation projects would also allow the county and cities to spend more of the money from an extension of the existing multipurpose SPLOST for other kinds of projects.
An eighth penny
The T-SPLOST would increase the total of local and state sales taxes in Bulloch to 8 percent on nonexempt items. Existing 1 percent local taxes include a regular Local Option Sales Tax and an Education SPLOST, both of which go to the school system, and the multipurpose SPLOST divided among the county and city governments.
As with the existing SPLOST, the proposed T-SPLOST distribution is based roughly on population. But the smaller towns each get a larger percentage of the money than would follow strictly from their portion of the county’s population.
Over the course of the five years, the county is to receive 51.3 percent of the revenue, or a $24.62 million out of the first $48 million, or Tier 1. The city of Statesboro would get 43 percent of all the revenue, or $20.64 million of that first $48 million. Brooklet is to get a 3.2 percent share; Portal 1.6 percent; and Register, 0.9 percent.
However, the Tier 1 revenue to the smaller cities is “frontloaded” so that they would not have to wait for their totals to accumulate. Brooklet would get its $1,536,000, Portal its $768,000 and Register its $432,000 in the first few months of the tax, before Statesboro and the county begin receiving their shares.
Each town would get more money at the same percentage if the total passed $48 million.
During the commissioners’ meeting, County Manager Tom Couch talked about some of the ways the county could use its share.
The county’s statement of “transportation purposes,” attached to the agreement, designates a portion, $562,500 if the tax collected the maximum $60 million, to the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport. The rest would go to “road, street and bridge purposes.” Sidewalks, bicycle paths and equipment for road maintenance can also be included in this category.
The airport funding, which would probably be closer to $500,000 than the maximum, would be used to match Federal Aviation Administration grants, Couch said.
For surface transportation projects, the biggest suggested categories were $5 million for paving, $5 million for intersection improvements, $3,750,000 for new road equipment such as graders and backhoes. Other categories given rough spending projections were an extension of the S&S Greenway, bridge updates, highway striping and signs, a borrow pit and paying off loans for previous projects.
“Now this is just a snapshot of what we could spend it on, and ultimately I think it would behoove us to have a couple of workshops, maybe no later than by the end of February, to have a longer discussion about candidate projects that you want to identify and you’re certain that we want to do,” Couch told the commissioners.
In an earlier list, county officials identified projects with a total cost approaching $50 million. So, with a county revenue share of $24.62 million to a maximum of $30.78 million from this tax, the commissioners need to set priorities for a “more finite” list, Couch said.
City ‘public transit’
Similarly, the city of Statesboro had a list with projects totaling “something like $47 million,” said Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire, an engineer long involved in local transportation planning. But the city’s share would amount to $20.64 million at the Tier 1 level and $25.8 million at the maximum.
The city, in its statement of purposes, proposes to commit, at the maximum, $25.35 million to “road, street and bridge purposes” and $450,000 to public transit, which could include “contracts with outside entities” to provide transit services.
Improvements to some busy intersections have long been on the city’s to-do lists, particularly the intersection of South Main Street with Fair Road and the intersection of Fair Road with South Zetterower Avenue.
“So there are some obvious ones in there,” Cheshire said after Tuesday evening’s council meeting. “The overall theme is sidewalks, intersections, geometric improvements, potentially transit of some type.”
At this point the cities and county have identified purposes instead of projects because the T-SPLOST law offers “no way of abandoning” specific projects if they are promised in the agreement, said Statesboro City Attorney Cain Smith.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.