Lee bumps up SPLOST projections

LEESBURG, Ga. -- The Lee County Commission's Finance Committee offered revamped revenue projections Tuesday some $3.8 million higher than originally projected for the county's planned Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax VI referendum, which officials hope to send to voters March 15.

Commissioner Bill Williams said he and Commission Chairman Ed Duffy used sales tax figures from the "months of the recession" to come up with the new projection of $24.9 million in SPLOST funds for the six-year period from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2019.

"We did our homework on this," Williams said after Tuesday's special called meeting. "We were conservative, and we were careful, but we looked at the monthly collections from 2008, 2009 and from this year to try and project where we might be during the SPLOST.

"The good news is that collections are trending up right now."

The projected additional funding would mean more for each of the three jurisdictions in the county if collections reach the $24.9 million mark. The unincorporated portion of the county would get $21,473,760 of that total; Leesburg would get $2,646,870, and Smithville's city government would get $779,370.

"I think these are reasonable projections," interim County Administrator Al Crace, who had recommended the commission take a "very conservative" approach to SPLOST numbers, said after the meeting. "Ultimately, it's a call the elected officials must make."

Crace outlined the recommended breakdown of the county's special tax funds that included $3,570,000 for public safety needs, $500,000 for courthouse renovations, $2.25 million for water and sewer projects, $10,738,760 for roads and bridges, $1, 665,000 for library projects, $500,000 for stormwater projects, another half-million for Public Works and public facilities, and $1.75 million for recreation projects.

The recreation money was not on the list discussed by the commission at its last SPLOST work session, and its presence prompted Commissioner Dennis Roland to renew his call for an agriculture center in the county.

"I'd ask the board to spend some of this money on an ag center; I'd like to see $500,000 of the recreation money go to an ag center," Roland said. "Farmers put something back into the community, and while recreation is a good thing, you can't eat a baseball.

"If nothing else, let's talk about incorporating an ag center in with a conference center and the recreational facilities. If we don't specify something for agriculture here, it will be six years before it comes around again."

When none of the commissioners responded, Roland said, "So, I can see I'm not getting any support."

That drew a comment from Commissioner Betty Johnson.

"It's not that we don't support you or your call for an ag center," she said. "It's just that if we start listing specific items on the referendum, we're going to be obligated to finish them no matter how much tax money comes in. That means we might have to fund these projects through the general fund."

Duffy said the projects on the SPLOST list had been prioritized by the Finance Committee.

"It's not that anyone is against an agriculture center, Dennis," Duffy said. "Certainly agriculture is important to the future of Lee County. But we tried to prioritize this list, get the items that the county needs first. And this is what was available."

Roland responded: "There was money available for what y'all wanted, but not for what I wanted."

The commission then voted 3-1 to approve the list and followed with a unanimous vote to set SPLOST VI projections at $24.9 million.

Asked after the meeting if he felt his fellow commissioners' vote was personal, Roland said he did not.

"This ain't personal," he said. "They just put their projects ahead of mine."

The commission is expected to approve the call for a SPLOST referendum and an intergovernmental agreement with Leesburg and Smithville at its scheduled Dec. 14 meeting.