Improving Pickens County, One Penny at a Time

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With the May 20 primary looming on the horizon, one area that doesn’t require a weighing of platforms and beliefs is the SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). While phase one of the SPLOST closes, tax payers have the option to continue the tax into the second phase which will encompass many areas in the county that are in desperate need of attention.Ralph Petersen, President of Salacoa Highlands Homeowners Association, attended the Board of Commissioners workshop last week seeking assurance about the proposed improvements to come from the one-cent sales tax. He was particularly concerned about the pavement of Henderson Mountain Road which deteriorated significantly with the winter weather and the ISO ratings.

The board, while not committing to the specific timeline, did admit those two areas are priorities along with numerous county-wide concerns.

Please see the following video for Petersen’s interaction with the commissioners and their answers. Also, after the video are the previous articles on the subject.

“Improving Pickens County one penny at a time” is the slogan for the proposed SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) which will be on the ballot May 20. Officials spoke at the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce breakfast about what it means for our local economy to get this passed by the voters.

Mike Denson, Chairman of the Jasper Downtown Development Authority, explained that the decision won’t be to add to existing sales taxes, but to basically continue the one percent per dollar levy that will expire in June, replacing it with another six-year SPLOST that will address mainly the roads in the county and in the towns. In simpler terms: a penny per dollar. That means the tax is paid through sales tax rather than property tax. So while the majority of it will be local money, those passing through town and spending here are paying it also rather than the entire tax burden being hoisted on Pickens residents.

Jasper Mayor John Weaver spoke to that end, clarifying that while the cities and the county get money for road projects from the Georgia Department of Transportation, with their own pressing needs they aren’t able to provide as much as in the past.

“It’s not quite enough to maintain our roads. We would have to double the millage rate, if not more, if the SPLOST doesn’t pass,”

he said.

County Commission Chairman Rob Jones gave a detailed account of where the monies will be allocated and how those entities plan to utilize them.

Pickens County:
– $14,418,000 towards roads, streets and bridges. A current list is continually kept of all roads, in order of importance (tallied by volume, bus routes, current conditions and other factors) to be addressed in order. This list is changed as conditions and events change.
– $5,987,000 for public safety facilities and equipment including $4.1 million for fire and rescue; $1.2 million for sheriff’s office vehicles and equipment; ambulance remounts for five vehicles at $500,000 and E-911 to correct “dead zones” by erecting towers at a cost of $151,000.
– $2,000,000 to the Pickens County Library for expansion and a technology wing.
– $800,000 for county water and sewer to replace distribution lines in need of replacement in the Jerusalem and Tate communities.

City of Jasper:
– $6,000,000 for resurfacing and improvements to existing streets and possibly new connector streets.

City of Nelson:

– $729,000 for street improvement and a generator for city hall.

Town of Talking Rock:
– $66,000 for parks and recreational facilities improvements. (Bear in mind, part of Nelson’s income is from Cherokee County SPLOST revenue.)

The total SPLOST collection over the six year period is anticipated to be $30 million.

Jones explained that a few areas of the county are in an ISO rating dilemma due to their distances from fire departments and recent changes in the insurance industry. He said that unless that’s addressed several areas of the county will see substantial home insurance costs past what they have already seen. Please see article explaining in further detail:

ISO Rating Creates Problems

With the financial gains they’ve made in recent history doesn’t absolve the county commissioners of their responsibility and stewardship towards the future. Jones said,

“Our debt ratio is very low. (We) can borrow bonds at an extremely low interest rate if (we) wanted to but I’d rather not. But as we go forward things are looking brighter.”

Jones further stated that the county will partner with Talking Rock and Nelson in providing equipment and personnel for their road improvement plans. Nelson Mayor Larry Ray chimed in,

“with their help, we should be able to stretch this a long way.”

Not to be forgotten is the economic impact. Denson said as the Jasper Downtown Development Authority and Pickens County Economic Development Committee make attempts to draw business into the county, if they come in and see the roads in disrepair they will not be inclined to locate to our communities.

To stay competitive with other counties who may have more resources, the road conditions are just one aspect of presenting the county in the best light possible.

“If the SPLOST does not pass, we will be so far behind the other counties in being able to chase business,”

Denson said. Tax deductions and other incentives may not be readily available if the monies aren’t in the coffers to support those much-needed draws.

Weaver summed it up by this prediction:

“If we don’t proceed with this referendum we’re having on May 20 we’re going to be in terrible condition by (the year) 2020.”

Mayor Weaver and Commissioner Rob Jones invited the public to contact them with any questions they may have about how pertinent this issue is and/or to report problems for them to consider. Please see this previous story about SPLOST for more information:

What happens if the SPLOST doesn’t pass?

Video of the presentations may be seen here:

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