With the end of the current SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) in sight, discussion began on a proposed new SPLOST beginning in 2014. The fireworks flew as an intergovernmental agreement between the city of Jasper and Pickens County is being forged to disperse funds.
The new SPLOST referendum would seek a total of $30,038,716.19 over a six year period if it passed muster with the voters of Pickens County. Of that, the initial agreement allocated $24 million to the county, $4.6 million to Jasper, $729,000 to Nelson and $66,000 to Talking Rock.
Jasper Mayor John Weaver fought diligently for the city of Jasper, asking for nearly $10 million for city projects. But that figure is nearly 1/3 of projected collections. That overshoots the percentage of the population the city of Jasper is qualified for by SPLOST regulations. Board of Commissions member Becky Denney asked if Weaver could prioritize the list by need.
Weaver quickly noted roads. He pointed out that while the county will receive $360,000 from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the city of Jasper only got $40,000. The cost for a 20 foot wide, one mile stretch of road is roughly $800,000 for resurfacing. Weaver stated,
The only thing we’re really asking for ourselves is to pave our roads that are falling apart because we don’t get the support from the state as we once did.
A top priority Weaver argued for is a round-about at Cove Road/Burnt Mountain Road to relieve traffic. Ridgewood (neighborhood) is receiving the brunt of the traffic attempting to avoid that intersection. According to Weaver a round-about would absolve the inherent issues of school traffic and Ridgewood being used as a “bypass.” Also at the top of the list is an extension on Pine Street, resurfacing roads, street repairs before recapping and the striping of roads.
All parties agreed that the top objective is helping Pickens countians understand how dire the passing of the bill is. County Attorney Phil Landrum stated that some citizens may think,
“I’m not going to vote for that sales tax because I don’t want a round-about there" and not understanding that by not voting for the sales tax you’ll increase your property taxes. We’ve got to do this, one way or the other.
Weaver continued to stress the importance of the city’s portion asserting that what Jasper does affects Pickens County as residents come through town for work or to get onto Highway 515.
This is the county seat and we can’t neglect the county seat anymore just because I have 3,000 taxpayers who pay city tax and county tax.
This money is in Pickens County, it’s not just the city of Jasper.
The consequences for the residents of Jasper, should the SPLOST not pass, is that the current millage rate of 4.69 percent could jump to nearly nine as the burden would be shifted to the city’s general fund.
During negotiations, Board Chairman Robert Jones suggested a starting point of $1 million per year to the city. Weaver agreed that would be a fair figure. As the meeting progressed, Landrum expressed doubt as to the figure being lawfully used in the language of the contract and suggested 20% of proceeds. Weaver insisted on a concrete figure as initially bargained to take to the city council but according to Landrum they may have to use a percentage. Further research on Landrum’s part was agreed upon. Another sticking point on a solid figure as opposed to a percentage is that all figures are conjecture dependent on actual collections. If Weaver agrees to a certain figure the city will be forced to abide by that agreement even if taxes exceed the projections.
As for the county’s portion, the $18.6 million would include $800,000 for water, $2 million to the library (which was left out of the last SPLOST), and $5,987,000 for public safety. Public safety includes new patrol vehicles for the sheriff’s department and two new fire stations in the county to address the recent ISO changes that affected numerous areas of the county, increasing homeowners insurance.
Per Jones, surveying for the locations of the proposed fire departments is being undertaken. But, he stresses, the costs aren’t just for fire stations,
but the equipment that goes into the fire stations, the B.A.’s (breathing apparatus), the apparatus on all the fire stations. Then we have to consider staffing those stations.
There will be road improvements allocated but due to new laws, some dirt roads can’t be paved without environmental studies. According to Jones, roads, public safety and the library have to be the county’s primary concerns.