Bryan County voters will decide whether or not to continue SPLOST funding on Nov. 7 after county commissioners voted Wednesday to put the question on the ballot.
SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) is a method whereby voters can approve an additional 1 percent sales tax that municipalities can use for capital improvement projects. If approved, the new cycle is expected to raise some $33 million over six years.
Commissioners also approved an intergovernmental agreement with the cities of Richmond Hill and Pembroke that determines how the money will be split. The county will receive $18.8 million of the total raise, while Richmond Hill will get $11 million and Pembroke $3.2 million.
The county chose to divide the money based on population. The Richmond Hill City Council approved the same agreement at its meeting Tuesday night, but some members expressed concerns over the matter.
Councilman Johnny Murphy said at the time that he felt the city was “forced to enter into this agreement.”
Mayor Harold Fowler had said he hoped the county would take money from the SPLOST pot to pay the funding gap for the new interchange to be built at I-95 and Belfast Keller Road before the rest of the money was divided up. As it stands, the county plans to use SPLOST money to pay its half of the gap, estimated to be between $1.25 million and $2.1 million, while he city has indicated it will use general fund dollars.
Fowler said that means city residents will “end up paying for it twice.”
Commissioners Chairman Carter Infinger said that was not part of the original discussions between the city and county.
“First off, that would take money away from Pembroke,” Infinger said, indicating that taking money from SPLOST to pay for the interchange and then dividing up the rest would mean Pembroke would get less money.
Infinger said he is not sure why Richmond Hill chose to bring up the issue so late in the process.
“I don’t know what changed with them,” he said. “We were on the same page until a couple of weeks ago.”
County Administrator Ben Taylor said 80 percent of the SPLOST money the county receives is spent on countywide services — which benefit city residents equally — and are mandated by the state. Those services include libraries, courts, the sheriff’s office and elections, to name a few.
Taylor said other county SPLOST money is spent on countywide services that are not mandated by the state but still benefit all residents, such as 911, recreation, animal control and economic development.
“That’s why the SPLOST law reads like it does,” Taylor said. “It puts the county in the driver’s seat because we are responsible for so much.”
Taylor noted that the money raised in the upcoming SPLOST cycle will be used to build two new fire stations, add a gym at Henderson Park and add more playing fields at both Henderson and Hendrix parks.