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Brown: Repurpose SPLOST funds

At Thursday night’s Fayette County Commission meeting, Commissioner Steve Brown will urge the reallocation of transportation sales tax revenues “as a means of bolstering the budget.”

Brown has placed the item on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting. To some, this might be his political cover to try and halt the West Fayetteville Bypass project, which has two phases remaining at an estimated $29.54 million to complete.

It’s doubtful, however, that Brown will at last convert fellow Commissioners Herb Frady, Lee Hearn and Robert Horgan into voting for anything that would take funds away from the bypass. Over Brown’s objections, those commissioners have routinely voted in favor of funding for both phases of the West Fayetteville Bypass.

Commissioner Allen McCarty has said he too would like to cut off funding for the West Bypass. That has created a 3-2 impasse in which Brown and McCarty are continuously outvoted on bypass matters ... and a handful of residents have taken Frady, Hearn and Horgan to task over their support for the bypass.

This time, though, Brown is aiming at redirecting SPLOST funds to shore up the county’s budget.

At a workshop meeting Wednesday afternoon, Brown was critical of the proposed budget as being “unsustainable” since it would use about $3 million in reserves.

“If home values drop again this year, we’re dead,” Brown exclaimed. “It’s really going to hurt if we have another significant drop in home values.”

Commission Chairman Herb Frady replied that he felt the county has cut enough from the proposed budget for the coming year.

Brown later suggested that the county “is playing with fire here and is going to be burned down the road the next couple of years,” though he noted that some budget cuts occurred in previous budget years.

In terms of redirecting the transportation SPLOST funds, the county could conceivably reallocate them to the general fund and pay off outstanding debts under legislation signed this year by Gov. Nathan Deal, although it is not known if that is what Brown would propose.

Doing so would require a referendum and a majority vote of approval from voters countywide. And prior to that referendum, the commission would have to vote in favor of declaring certain SPLOST projects “infeasible,” according to the legislation.

The legislation defines infeasible as “impracticable, unserviceable, unrealistic or otherwise not in the best interests of the citizens.”

This year, the county is proposing an increase in property taxes for property owners in Tyrone, Brooks, Woolsey and unincorporated Fayette County to cover reduced property tax revenues for the county’s fire department.

The proposed property tax increase, combined with a rollback of the county’s EMS tax rate, means a resident with a $250,000 home will pay an additional $39.04 on their property taxes starting this fall.

Because Fayetteville and Peachtree City fund their own fire departments, their property owners will not be subject to the fire tax increase.

Fire tax revenues have gone downhill in recent years along with the economy, county officials have said. Those revenues are dependent on property taxes, which have declined with home values, and also from the insurance premium tax, which also has declined in recent years, officials have said.

Following the meeting, Commissioner Lee Hearn noted that the county’s surplus cash reserves have been accumulated over the past several years as the commission has tightened its budget with staff reductions and other significant cost-saving measures. Hearn said the money was put aside for when it would be needed, and that time is now.

Even after taking the $3 million from the county’s additional “surplus” reserve fund, there will still be some $5 million remaining for future years if necessary, County Finance Director Mary Holland has told the commission.

Including the surplus reserve funds and also restricted reserves (the three months of working capital) and a $2 million “emergency fund” for any disaster, along with the capital improvement plan funds, the county has a total of $34.9 million available should a significant amount of funding be needed on an emergency basis in the future, Holland has said.

Brown in his remarks last week noted that the county’s proposed budget doesn’t include any funds to refurbish the county’s old jail structure, which was planned to handle overflow capacity from the current jail, where the daily population has risen significantly.

A cost figure for refurbishing the old jail has not been presented to the commission yet.



grassroots's picture

Commissioner Brown is right. If home values drop again, and they will, we'll be in trouble while the three stooges will be gone with us left holding the bag if they raise our property taxes and blow SPLOST money on the WFB. The reserve Hearn talks about is pidly compared to another wave of economic downturn. They have no vision but to see their egos protected from addmitting that rerouting the money would be a good idea. At least worthy of a study to see while putting WFB on hold. How can it hurt? Or maybe they think by draining the SPLOST, raising our taxes and still going deeper in debt will cause the public to go along with another vote on a SPLOST. I don't put it past them. But in the background they are determined to speed it up, just like Jack Smith did. Trying to make up for the proactive homeowners (from 300 before to now over 4,000 according to Wingo) who have gotten their taxes reduced when contesting the assessmnet is counter productive. It's taken most of us two years, and for Frady and Horgan and Hearn to roll that back with one swipe of the pen and one meeting is stupid when you have $58 million sitting in the SLPOST pool. A cesspool idea. Go to the meeting tonight and see in person how these guys work by ignoring everybody. It should be on youtube.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

House values will continue to slide as long as the banks keep taking back property and selling for 1/2 price. The only way out of this is for the banks to actually try to work out a reduced payment plan with the existing owners. So far the banks have refused to acknowledge that it is their own actions - specifically chilling the market with the glut of foreclosures and the side effect of turning homeowners into renters for at least 7 years, which reduces the already small pool of buyers.

Banks won't get this on their own, and as much as I hate government intrusion, that is what will be needed to force the banks to act as if they truly were members of the community instead of Mr. Potter. Otherwise, 3 more years until they have driven everyone out of their homes and replaced them with people making lower payments.

Live free or die!

suggarfoot's picture

When people are having a hard time and trying to get their taxes reduced, these 3 bone heads are doing everything to squander the money we have on the bypasses.

It is plain that smokin Horgan, Bible thumper Hearn, and senile Frady march to the developers drum and not the taxpayers. They have no empathy for the taxpayer.

For me, living in Fayette county has proved a huge dissapointment all the way round. I hate I ever moved here.

ginga1414's picture

RWM is right! I counted the number of Notices of Sale Under Power yesterday, and there were 122.

That is extremely sad. I have seen what it does to a family to lose their home. The family suffers emotionally and financially. The children are affected more than parents realize sometimes.

Dondol's picture

If anyone can find reason for a Recall petition then lets get one started.
I'm sure that we can garner enough signatures to get the job done, but we need to act fast!

mudcat's picture

It used to be illegal to use SPLOST funds for any other purpose but that changed this year and you can do it - provided the voters OK it.

Dondol's picture

the other 3 Clowns, the Joker, the Thumper and the Smoker. If grounds stand for recall, then lets find them and use them.

mudcat's picture

Doubt there would be enthusiasm for a special recall election right before the regular election. Granted it is a year away, but it would be less than that even if the petition could get done this summer.

Thumper - that's funny.

There is growing enthusiasm to recall and vote out ANY politician wasting money. With unemployment up, home values in the tank, more businesses closing and consumer confidence down, fewer tax dollars are there anyway. If these commissioners can't see the opportunity to shore up the county's finances and rid us of the albatross bypass with HB 240 they need to go.

If these guys just want to play around with our money I guess I'll have to help them find a new hobby. I don't think I am alone.

suggarfoot's picture

I agree with you. While elections are around a year off, these guys are going 24/7 on the bypasses to get them so far along we will have no choice but to finish them.

The problem is, we the taxpayers need some relief. That money DOES need to go into other projects like crawling out of debt. We just can't afford those roads right now. I doubt there is a taxpayer around that wants the money spent in the fashion 3 of the commisoners do.

Dondol's picture

will cost less than letting these clowns stay in office for another year. Frittering away our Money, trying to shut down our Public comments, whats next
the Joker (Frady) coming after our guns.

suggarfoot's picture

I agree and if anyone wants to get something a petition...I will go door to door.

It would be cheaper...and they are counting on that year to go full steam ahead 24/7.

With Brown's suggestion, and Frady throwing him out for it (with police help) is VERY OBVIOUS the taxpayers are not who they are representing.

suggarfoot's picture

Dondol, great name sugesstions.

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