Local leaders, community group talk SPLOST

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY -- Representatives from the city and county governments presented proposed projects Monday accompanied by one of the organizers of a community group who says that a ballot initiative to renew a one-percent sales tax is simply "common cents."

Dougherty County Administrator Richard Crowdis and Albany Assistant City Manager James Taylor each presented facts about the sales tax commonly referred to as SPLOST, and outlined a handful of some of the 40-plus projects both governments hope to accomplish over the next six years with the funds generated.

Click here to read the SPLOST VI project list.

On the county side, Crowdis discussed planned improvements to the Dougherty County Library System's Downtown Branch which is scheduled to receive more than $5 million in upgrades and renovations which will ultimately totally gut the structure.

Crowdis said 172,000 visitors passed through the doors of the downtown library last year.

He also pointed to a road widening project on Fleming Road from Gaissert to Mock Road which will include a turn lane for truck headed back and forth from Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.

"This is something that's been high up on their priority list," Crowdis said. "Something they've expressed a strong desire for because of the traffic and trucks that go back and forth from the base."

Railroad crossing upgrades and storm drainage were also highlighted.

On the city end, Taylor pointed to the strong push for infrastructure improvements slated for the SPLOST.

Included is $3.9 million for airport improvements including an upgraded and energy efficient airport terminal and buildings, $8.5 million for upgrades to the city's aging sewer and storm water system and $7 million in matching funds for the replacement of the Broad Avenue Bridge.

But while both Taylor and Crowdis could present the projects, the law presents them from specifically advocating for them -- that's where Judith Corbett and company come in.

Together with Mary Ligon, Corbett and other community figures are weighing in on the SPLOST issue through a concerted push to publicize the facts of SPLOST so that voters can be better informed when they head to the polls between now and November 2.

Click here to see the group's SPLOST 'fact' sheet.

"When you look at the projects on the list that will be benefiting this community and you understand how they're going to be paid for, it just makes sense," Corbett said. "Why should the people of Dougherty County be the only people to pay for these roads and bridges and improvements when we have people from Camilla and Terrell County who drive on those same roads to go buy things?"

Proponents say people outside of Dougherty County will generate much of the $98 million expected to be provided by SPLOST.

The group estimates that between 33 and 40 percent of sales taxes generated within Dougherty County comes from items bought by people from surrounding counties, a number they believe will go even higher once the Wal-Mart in East Albany opens next year.

The committee has enlisted the help of some widely known names in the community, including B.J. Fletcher, Pam Jackson, T. Marshall Jones, Lamar Reese, and Dr. Daniel Simmons and is soliciting the community's help in spreading the word. They've created a facebook page and can be reached at citizensforcommoncents@gmail.com

Critics to SPLOST say that the tax often constructs buildings that will require the city and county general fund support -- which is derived from property taxes -- to operate in future years.

The SPLOST initiative comes up for renewal at a time when any form of government spending is coming under intense scrutiny.

When asked about the possibility of SPLOST dollars being misspent during its six-year lifespan, supporters promptly pointed to the city and county government website which has posted reports on how the money for each of the last five SPLOSTs has been spent.

"In many ways, government officials are more regulated on how they spend sales tax dollars than they are with our property tax dollars," Corbett said. "That's one reason why the projects have to be on the ballot, so the voters will approve them."

A poll on the issue is on albanyherald.com.