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County leaders discuss SPLOST continuation
Proposed referendum would let voters decide in November
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Bulloch County Commissioners hosted a luncheon Monday with leaders from Brooklet, Portal, Register and Statesboro to consider an early extension of the existing Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
    City and county officials met at the North Main Annex to confer about a proposal that would place a referendum to extend the current county tax — which will expire in November 2013 — on a ballot November 8, 2011.
    Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch presented to the group reasons for an early renewal, a time line to move forward with a referendum and projected figures a continued SPLOST tax would yield.
    An extension to the tax would ensure funds be collected throughout Bulloch County — maintaining a seven percent sales tax — for a period of six years between 2013 and 2019. An estimated $73 million would be raised to spur economic development, enhance infrastructure and provide continued quality services to county residents, said Couch.
    “A strategic advantage to doing an early SPLOST renewal is it secures us a big capital funding source through the end of the decade,” he said to the assembly. “We can begin making formal, long-term plans for capital projects.”
    The county would like to proceed with a vote to extend the tax in order to guarantee funds be available to develop an industrial park on a recently purchased 220-acre tract of land near the I-16/US 301 interchange.
    Bulloch County “cannot afford to let that asset remain idle without getting a return on investment,” said Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil. It is vital that a referendum extends SPLOST for the project to get underway, he said.
    SPLOST money would fund water and sewer installation in the area, paving the way for industrial and residential facilities, said Nevil.
    Also, by holding a referendum this year, the county hopes to avoid potential voter dissatisfaction regarding a proposed Trans-portation tax in 2012 having an effect on the SPLOST extension.
    Citizens will vote on a regional TSPLOST — a one cent tax intended by state officials to create jobs and provide improved transportation infrastructure throughout the state — during the summer next year.
    “There is a strategic consideration with regard to the upcoming regional transportation SPLOST,” said Couch. “There is concern that if we had brought the SPLOST vote along on its normal course, apathy toward the T-SPLOST vote would extend to the SPLOST extension.”
    The collection of city representatives decided Monday to hold a second public meeting — at a time yet to be determined — to continue discussion of holding a referendum in 2011.
    “I would like to see us have another meeting, with all of the city representatives, to discuss further what we did today,” said Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen.
    The Board of Commissioners has scheduled a meeting June 1 to discuss specific projects funded by potential SPLOST dollars.
    According to Couch, the city and county must formulate an intergovernmental agreement between the four City Councils and County Commission prior to holding a referendum. In preparing for a vote in November, The County Commission will conduct the process “on a rather tight schedule,” he said.
    The call for referendum must be sent to the Department of Justice in mid-July to receive preclearance.
    
    Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.

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