ALBANY — Chad Warbington, a citizen of Dougherty County with a history of political ambition, spoke to the Dougherty County Commission on Monday about the possible formation of a SPLOST Citizen Oversight Committee, an appointed group to ensure there is accountability for funds generated by all SPLOST referendums.
The group, Warbington said, would allow for citizen involvement in the identification of SPLOST projects and prioritization and oversight that would include reports and documentation as necessary for budget, timelines and financial implications to the general budget.
While county officials, including members of the commission, were open to the idea of increased communication efforts, they pointed that much of what Warbington was proposing is already in place — adding that efforts are ongoing to better touch base with citizens on where their tax dollars are being spent.
Warbington said such a committee is a proven way to increase citizen support and engagement, and that Georgia’s Cobb, Gwinnett, Macon and Glynn, DeKalb counties have similar committees in place. For the most recent T-SPLOST referendum, he said, citizen input was not taken into consideration for the project list. He also said that there has been a lack of transparency and accountability of past SPLOST dollars and projects were not ranked and prioritized.
He said this was demonstrated by a “close” margin in the T-SPLOST vote of 52 percent to 48 percent in March.
Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said county officials are careful from a transparency standpoint, acknowledging later in the meeting that communication is an issue.
County Attorney Spencer Lee also offered his input.
“It is audited every year, and it passes with a comfortable margin,” Lee said.
Warbington said a committee would make it difficult for government officials not to provide SPLOST project information, questionable accountability of spending, payroll cross-charging to a SPLOST project and direct SPLOST payments to nonprofits without purchase oversight or commission approval.
Cohilas, referencing an action item that passed 6-1 at the commission’s meeting last week, said the process of updating the county’s website in a way that ought to make information more accessible is in the works. District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines said the commission’s finance committee meetings, during which SPLOST spending is discussed, are open to the public.
District 4 Commissioner Russell Gray suggested putting SPLOST updates in the “DOCO Today” newsletter released to the public quarterly.
County Administrator Michael McCoy acknowledged that much of the public feedback regarding SPLOST has been (a lack of) communication, and that the goal of county officials is to improve that — but it will not happen overnight.
“People want information at their fingertips, and we will deliver that,” McCoy said. “It will just take time.”
Warbington said he envisioned a joint board including city of Albany and Dougherty County citizens that would be formed in June prior to collections beginning from the T-SPLOST in July, and that an independent SPLOST expenditure audit would be immediately conducted.
“Today, I asked, on behalf of citizens, for more oversight, accountability and information regarding SPLOST projects,” he wrote in a statement presented to The Albany Herald immediately following the meeting’s open session. “More specifically, with T-SPLOST recently passing with a very close margin, citizens want more involvement prioritizing projects and an oversight committee like many other counties in the state.
“Information on spending, completion and scheduling of SPLOST projects need to be more accessible to all citizens. Trust and confidence in SPLOST are proven to increase by implementing those items.”
Warbington is expected to give a similar presentation to the Albany City Commission at its meeting Tuesday.