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SPLOST talk heats up in DeKalb

DeKalb County commissioners discussed the possibility of new provisions for SPLOST under Senate Bill 156 at the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners legislative retreat April 14.

A few months after the word “tolled” derailed a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum in DeKalb County, commissioners are now revisiting the issue and hope to talk with constituents about SPLOST in the upcoming months.

 Commissioners, county officials and residents are awaiting the governor’s signature on two bills that would affect SPLOST in DeKalb County.

 Senate Bill 143 “corrects” the tolling language that would have caused a property tax increase for DeKalb homeowners if SPLOST was passed last year. Senate Bill 156, which is currently under review by the governor’s office, makes certain provisions on what the county can spend with the proceeds from SPLOST.

 During a DeKalb County Board of Commissioners legislative retreat held at the Decatur library, commissioners said they wanted to begin talks with their constituents.

 “We’re all feeling a little anxious to move forward on this because the summer time is coming and it will be hard to get everyone in a room,” Commissioner Kathie Gannon said. “We still have to find a way to move forward with this process.”

 If SB 156 is signed into law, the county would be limited to spending funds on transportation improvements, public safety facilities related to capital equipment and the repair of capital outlay projects. 

Last year a project list was submitted for approval by a citizen advisory committee. Two members of the committee were appointed by former interim CEO Lee May. The committee’s project list included road improvements and a $40 million government center.

 Officials in the county’s law department said the SPLOST list would have to be analyzed against the new requirements to determine if the proposed expenditures would be allowed. According to information presented to commissioners during the legislative retreat, construction items such as the government center, libraries and parks would not be allowed under SB 156.

 “The [project list] that was put together by District 3 was a great list,” said Commissioner Larry Johnson. “We get caught up in all these meetings and November is going to be here before you know it. The goal for us is to re-engage the community as soon as possible because if we’re not going to have the government center, you almost have $35 million that you can use for sidewalk [improvements].”

 According to the county’s budget office, if SPLOST were implemented for five years starting in 2018, it would raise approximately $382 million in unincorporated DeKalb County.

 County officials will also have to consider what projects qualify as “capital outlay projects” under the proposed SB 156. State law defines a capital outlay project as a “major, permanent, or long-lived improvement” such as land or structure. Under SB 156 the repair of capital outlay projects shall not exceed 15 percent of the total SPLOST proceeds.

 “I just want to know what I can leave on. Time passes by so fast. The citizens have already told us what they wanted,” said Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson. “But you can’t say we didn’t have a [project list] approved, because we didn’t vote on it. And we didn’t vote on it because we were told a week before voting about the [tolling language].”

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