As Macon-Bibb County leaders contemplate what projects spark citizens’ interests for the next special purpose local option sales tax, it is a good idea to listen to all that’s being said and advised and pick and choose what course to follow. In SPLOST proposals in the past, the project lists were basically written in stone. The money collected over the five-year period had to go to the projects specified in the ballot measure. While more flexibility has been built into the law governing how SPLOST funds are spent, we would suggest the commissioners use a simple rule: Say what you mean and mean what you say.
The plan is for the project list to be developed not from on high, but with significant input from citizens. Community meetings are planned to find out what is important for the citizens of this area. It’s already been determined that recreation is one of the key issues as is blight, but there are some infrastructure items that are big-ticket that also must start to be addressed — from the landfill to stormwater drainage.
The community meetings should also be informative. Many citizens don’t understand what SPLOST money can and cannot be used for, and that projects cannot start construction until the tax money is collected, unless of course, the county borrows funds to begin projects right away, and those bonds are repaid using SPLOST proceeds.
Another discussion citizens should hear up front is the inherent inaccuracy of project estimates. For example, though the first phase of the Sub-South Recreation Complex was budgeted to cost $8 million, that doesn’t mean much. Bids submitted are in the $11 million range. Commissioners have decide what they want to keep in the first phase and what to carry over to the next.
In 1994, Houston Avenue was budgeted to cost $4 million from the roads improvement SPLOST. Work didn’t start until 2007 and the project cost by then was $18 million. Some on commission wanted to scrap the project, but Commissioners Sam Hart and Bert Bivins reminded their colleagues of their promises.
As this list comes together, commissioners need to remember there are two ingredients necessary for citizens to authorize a tax on themselves. Certainly, what the money will be used for is crucial, but more importantly, they need to trust their government to do what it says it will do.