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SPLOST agreement moves forward
Boro would get $15M, county almost $20M, other towns $1M after $26M shared projects
W McCollar Jonathan 2018
Mayor Jonathan McCollar

Statesboro’s mayor and council approved an agreement Wednesday evening with the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners calling for a six-year, potential $62 million extension of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

If the Brooklet, Portal and Register councils also approve in meetings of their own, the agreement will be back in the hands of the county commissioners for approval next week.  Next, they are expected to present a resolution Wednesday to the Board of Elections to place a countywide referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot, because voters get the final say on a SPLOST.

The city of Statesboro stands to receive an estimated $15,143,400 for city-specific projects and the county government $19,646,800 for its specific projects, but only after financing and monthly payments are set up for $26.2 million in joint projects and the three smaller cities divide a little over $1 million.

“I can’t say enough about the staff for the city, the staff for the county and the council, the commissioners,” Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar said after Wednesday’s called council meeting. “We really came together to put together what we believe is a great product for the entire county. A phenomenal job has been done and a lot of hard work has paid off tonight.”

Randy Wetmore
Randy Wetmore

City Manager Randy Wetmore publicly thanked County Manager Tom Couch, Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire, County Attorney Jeff Akins, City Attorney Cain Smith and county and city public safety chiefs for work on the agreement. County Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson, Commissioner Jappy Stringer, Akins and Couch were among a half dozen or more county officials who attended the city meeting.

Unlike the new Transportation SPLOST approved by voters in May, the November referendum would continue an existing penny tax.


Shared projects

The $26.2 million up-front portion of the SPLOST for joint projects to serve the county and cities includes $11.8 million for solid waste disposal costs including space in a regional landfill, expansion of the city-owned waste transfer station and land for an inert landfill; almost $7.25 million for adding jail space and renovating  Sheriff’s Office administrative areas; $6.75 million for a new digital radio system for law enforcement, fire departments and other public agencies and $400,000 for improvements at the county-owned recycling processing center.

The bid on the radio system came in just last week, and negotiations resulted in an unusual provision in the agreement.

The new radio system will be compliant with the federal P25 digital protocol, and the county is buying P25 radios as part of the deal. However, Statesboro had already purchased P25-compliant handheld radios. So the city will be helping to purchase the antennas and other infrastructure but will get back 42.3 percent of what the county spends on actual radios.


Radio bid

Officials said the city may be refunded several hundred thousand dollars, but they don’t know the exact amount because the county is still working out final costs with Motorola, the sole bidder. Its price for the overall system was little over $6.1 million. One other company took part in the process but submitted only a “no bid.”

“It’s probably a unique agreement, but it was made based on the circumstances of the radio bid, because up until last week we were dealing with a big unknown,” County Manager Couch said Thursday. “Based on the consultants’ study, the bid could have come in as high as $8 million, so I think we were fortunate in that respect.”

Additionally, Georgia Southern University, the Bulloch County Board of Education, Ogeechee Technical Collage and East Georgia State College have been asked to join in paying for the radio system. The county does not yet have an agreement with these agencies, but Thompson said Georgia Southern has made a verbal commitment.

Passage of the referendum would also give the county authority to borrow $12.66 million to speed funding of the radio system, the jail space and sheriff’s office renovations or any of the county-specific projects.

After monthly payments toward the joint projects are scheduled, the next $1,009,800 will be divided among Brooklet, Portal and Register, based on their percentages of the county’s population. Brooklet would get $716,000; Portal $222,200; and Register $71,600.

Then, as long as total revenue stays below $62 million, Statesboro would receive 43.5 percent of the remainder, or up to $15,143,400, for city-specific projects. Meanwhile, the county would receive 56.5 percent, or up to $19,646,800.


More for greenspace

Staff members presented Statesboro’s council with two versions of the city’s project list. The first option, dated July 24, allotted $700,000 for park, greenspace and trail projects. The second option, dated July 25, increased the park and trail funding to $1.1 million but trimmed some other categories to accomplish this.

The biggest reduction was in the city’s public safety category, which had been allotted $6.1 million but was cut to $5.76 million in the version that shifted money to park and trail projects.

Council members asked about the effects on the Statesboro Police Department’s and Statesboro Fire Department’s plans. But Police Chief Mike Broadhead said the SPD still should be able to complete the replacement of its patrol vehicles. Fire Chief Tim Grams described tentative ideas for an SFD Station 3 and talked about growing county and city cooperation in fire protection.

On a motion from Councilman John Riggs seconded by Councilman Sam Lee Jones, the council approved 5-0 the city project list with the increase to $1.1 million in park, trail and greenspace funding. The council’s approval of the intergovernmental agreement was also unanimous.

With the new T-SPLOST already approved by voters, the local governments were able to remove road and bridge projects from the plan for the multipurpose SPLOST. If approved in November, the six-year extension will begin Oct. 1, 2019.


Back to county

The SPLOST’s renewal, Thompson said, is vital to the county commissioners’ efforts to keep from increasing property taxes.

“I’m glad that it was approved and that everybody will be receiving their portion,” he said. “I’m most happy that the communications part was approved because, you know, out in the county, from the length of it to the width of it, police, firefighters, Board of Education, everybody has to be able to talk in case of a an emergency or disaster.”

The Board of Commissioners has slated a meeting for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.


Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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