Dollars from DeKalb’s new SPLOST sales tax are starting to roll in, but the county still has not ironed out specifics on where the money will be spent.
Twelve municipalities will split about 39 percent of the special purpose local option sales tax proceeds, which is equal to their share of the county population. The rest of the money, about $388 million over six years, will be controlled by the Board of Commissioners and CEO Mike Thurmond.
The county’s broad plan includes things like $151 million for road resurfacing, $41 million to replace fire stations or build new ones and $27 million to repair or replace the Bobby Burgess building, which houses several government offices. But the details are nebulous.
Replacing the Burgess building on Memorial Drive near Interstate 285 would take a lot more money than what is set aside, but the county hasn’t said whether these dollars will be used for temporary fixes or the initial phases of a large-scale construction project.
There is no public list for where new fire stations or athletic fields will be located, let alone which ones are prioritized for year-one funding.
“We need to see where the projects are,” Commissioner Kathie Gannon said recently.
The commission has begun scheduling twice-monthly special meetings to discuss SPLOST implementation. During the first one on May 18, several members repeatedly asked why the board did not have more details about what will be done and when.
Commissioner Larry Johnson said that county leaders had spent months talking about their vision for SPLOST when marketing the tax increase to voters last year. Now, he wants to move forward.
“We now have mission, vision and values, and then you’re sitting here telling me we still need to figure out what we want to do first when the voters voted 71 percent,” he said during the meeting. “So I don’t want to get caught up in studying long and studying wrong and getting caught up in inertia.”
When elected leaders went out to sell DeKalb voters on the tax increase last year, they circulated a general overview of SPLOST projects in a list divided into four sections: transportation, public safety facilities and related equipment, parks and recreation and general repairs.
At the next SPLOST meeting on June 15, board members say they expect Thurmond’s office to provide more specifics about the actual projects receiving funding under various line items in each category.
But some of those answers may be weeks and even months away. Decision-making is on pause partially because the county has yet to hire a program manager to oversee SPLOST spending.
Three companies responded to the request for proposals by the April due date, but the evaluation committee still has not made a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners on who to hire. The program manager contract could be worth more than $4 million over six years.
Thurmond said the program manager will have an important role in making sure SPLOST dollars are spent efficiently and, when necessary, in conjunction with other local, state and federal programs. So, until a program manager is in place, certain parts of SPLOST cannot move forward.
“We don’t have the expertise currently employed in the county to manage a project of this magnitude, so they’ll be assisting us in almost every area,” the CEO said.
DeKalb’s Purchasing Department is in the process of soliciting bids for Phase One road resurfacing and patching projects under SPLOST. A list of 75 miles of roadways is included, culled from previous studies that identified 300 miles of DeKalb streets in the worst shape. Even though the county is asking for bids, the work is unlikely to get underway under program manager is on board.
The county has also been slow to get a citizen oversight committee up and running. The committee, which is supposed to provide guidance to the county on how to spend SPLOST revenue, was supposed to hold its first meeting in May but members are still being appointed.
Thurmond said his goal is to come up with a fair process to prioritize projects that satisfy voters. That won’t be easy when it comes down to prioritizing which types of projects get funding first and where they will be located in a county that is 271 square miles.
“The good news is, I represent all of DeKalb County,” Thurmond said. “So any project that enhances roads, public safety, recreation or the quality of life in DeKalb is good for DeKalb.”