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Pending T-SPLOST agreement earmarks $3 million for Statesboro’s bus system
Previous one, in 2018, set aside $450,000 for transit service, which has yet to roll
Statesboro city transit bus
This image, from designs created for the city by Davis Marketing Company, shows a composite of logo and graphic-wrap elements preferred by council members and the mayor for the city buses, but it is not necessarily the final design. An agreement pending among the Bulloch County government and the four cities within the county for a five-year extension of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocates $3 million for Statesboro’s small-bus public transit system.

An agreement pending among the Bulloch County government and the four cities within the county for a five-year extension of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocates $3 million for Statesboro’s small-bus public transit system.

That is an almost sevenfold increase from the $450,000 allocated in the original, May 2018 T-SPLOST referendum for the planning, equipping and still awaited launch of the city’s transit service.

Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny informed City Council and the mayor of the higher amount during a June 21 work session.

“Previously, we were just initiating the transit system,” Penny said. “But the transit system should be in place over the next five years, and so the T-SPLOST money can be used to purchase equipment and it can also be used to pay for the contract with the contractor that’s doing the work. That way it won’t have the impact on the general fund. I will say to you that our hope and desire is that the transit system will grow.”

By making the intergovernmental agreement, the county and town governments are preparing to place a countywide referendum for the T-SPLOST renewal on the Nov. 8 ballot. It’s a 1% sales tax, one of four local option taxes collected in Bulloch County.

Meanwhile, Statesboro’s bus service has yet to begin operations, after the city teamed up with the Coastal Regional Commission, or CRC, to equip and operate it. Officials have attributed a more than year-long delay in delivery of buses to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions in parts supply and manufacturing.

But city staff members recently reported that four buses, now a narrower eight-passenger type instead of 10-passenger buses as originally ordered, are scheduled to for delivery to the CRC in August. After steps to equip them and apply logos and other graphics, the buses could be ready to roll in October, said city Public Works and Engineering Director John Washington.

Photos and floorplans show that the little buses look like buses, not vans, and have a built-in wheelchair lift with a door separate from the stepped entrance. But many full-size vans seat more people.

“Over the next few years I would hope that, while we might not look at the largest buses, we certainly want to be able to maybe go to a larger size if we can get the ridership,” Penny also said to the mayor and council last week.

The $3 million for the bus system would be 9.7% of the $30.96 million total the city of Statesboro would receive in its 43% share of the countywide tax if it nets the full, projected $72 million revenue from 2023 to 2028.



Boro and Brooklet councils approve

Near the end of the regular meeting after the June 21 work session, Statesboro City Council voted 3-0, with one member absent and another, who was participating remotely, momentarily not visible, to approve the intergovernmental agreement on T-SPLOST. Meeting the next evening, Brooklet City Council approved the agreement 5-0.

The Portal and Register councils, and the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners itself, are expected to approve the agreement before the commissioners take action July 19 on a referendum resolution.

Under the agreement, each local government would receive the same percentage share of T-SPLOST revenue as under the 2018 referendum: 51.3% to the county, 43% to Statesboro, 3.2% to Brooklet, 1.6% to Portal and 0.9% to Register.

But whereas the previous run of the tax was capped at $60 million total revenue, the renewal agreement projects $72 million over five years but does not set a cap, since state law no longer requires one when local governments make an agreement.

Brooket’s  share is projected to net $2.3 million; Portal’s, $1.15 million; and Register’s, $648,000.


More for streets, sidewalks, trails

Of Statesboro’s share, 90.3%, or up to $27.96 million over the next five years, would be for constructing, renovating and maintaining streets, roads, bridges, sidewalks and bicycle paths, for related drainage improvements and the purchase of materials and machinery for such work.

But the $3 million for the in-town bus service now named Statesboro Area Transit is one of two specific appropriations in the intergovernmental agreement.

The other is $1 million earmarked for projects at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport from the county government’s share. That will also be an increase, more than doubling the $450,000 the county earmarked for the airport in 2018.

But the county’s 51.3% share is projected to bring in $36.94 million, so the airport appropriation is less than 3% of the county’s expected total.


Grants to start

By May 2020, the city had spent about $100,000 of the $450,000 earmarked for city transit on a feasibility study and the implementation plan.

Last week, City Council approved a $33,367 purchase from a company called Hasley Recreation of three wooden bus stop shelters with benches. One will be for the route transfer station, in the public parking lot across South College Street from the post office. The others are going to the Bulloch County Health Department on West Altman Street and Cambridge Apartments on Lanier Drive.

Bus stop shelters, being purchased with T-SPLOST revenue, are an example of a transit system expense not covered by federal and state grants. But by working with the CRC to obtain Federal Transit Administration grants, Statesboro’s city government is buying the buses and will have the CRC operate them the first year at almost no local cost.

The bus purchases and first-year operating costs had been projected at $530,700. Normally, with an FTA grant, the city would have been required to pay 50% of operating costs and 20% of capital costs, for an estimated first-year local taxpayer expense of $201,090.

But the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 eliminated the required local match for the grants for one year.

When the matching requirements resume, the contract cost with the CRC to operate the buses could be paid from T-SPLOST, Penny said.

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