Tucker City Manager Tami Hanlin talks with Parks and Recreation Director Rip Robertson during the August ribbon cutting at the city’s first SPLOST-funded road resurfacing project on Thornridge Lane. Special to AJC.

DeKalb County, cities approach SPLOST differently

DeKalb voters overwhelmingly approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in November that will inject hundreds of millions of dollars into government coffers over the next six years.

In May, the proceeds started rolling in.

But four months later, some of the 13 jurisdictions benefiting from the sales tax have more to show for the influx of cash than others. At least one county commissioner says DeKalb’s administration is moving too slowly to address a host of needs. Meanwhile, DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond has said the county is moving deliberately and is not behind schedule.

“We have not yet actually paved a road — paved a foot of road — with SPLOST dollars,” Commissioner Nancy Jester said in video posted on Youtube.

But Wednesday, Thurmond highlighted 50 police cars and 10 fire rescue vehicles purchased with SPLOST dollars.

And Thursday, the CEO announced that DeKalb has begun resurfacing 300 miles of its worst roadways. More than $9 million will be spent on this first wave of repaving.

Eventually, the county will receive an estimated $388 million and 12 cities will split another $249 million.

Jester’s comments come as other DeKalb cities are already celebrating the completion of road projects using SPLOST dollars.

Brookhaven used SPLOST revenue to accelerate its repaving schedule, which existed before the 2017 referendum. The city has already completed every street on its 2018 list and all but a handful of those scheduled for 2019.

Mayor John Ernst said next year the city will reevaluate its roads and spend its dollars “in the most economically and scientifically efficient way to get the best roads at the best price.”

The city of Tucker has already identified which roads will receive the first wave of SPLOST money. The city is about halfway through resurfacing 23 streets using $3.5 million in SPLOST funds.

“We knew that our paving was the big problem, that our streets were in very poor condition,” city engineer Ken Hildebrandt said.

Tucker also plans to use SPLOST to make intersections safer and implement projects under a transportation master plan that will be completed in the spring.

Chamblee is in the process of spending $5 million on improvements along Peachtree Road through downtown, as well as extending the Chamblee Rail Trail multi-use path.

Clarkston spent its money constructing a new driveway and on repairs at 40 Oaks Nature Preserve, improvements along East Ponce de Leon Avenue and resurfacing Church Street. At least four other projects are in the engineering and design phase.

Dunwoody is expected to vote next month on an amended budget that includes SPLOST projects like pedestrian and bicycle paths, traffic congestion relief and road resurfacing.

At least one city has hit a rough patch. Stonecrest’s mayor this week decided to take a leave of absence, in part because of a bitter disagreement with council members over how to proceed on SPLOST. Mayor Jason Lary wants to fire the vendor the city selected to manage its SPLOST projects.

When a majority of council members questioned the timing of Lary’s about-face and refused to immediately concur, he decided to take leave earlier than expected to focus on cancer treatments.

Thurmond said it takes time to make sure that personnel and resources are in place so that residents can be confident every dollar is well spent.

The county hired the firm Moreland Altobelli Associates in June to manage SPLOST programs, and a citizen oversight committee held its first meeting in August.

Additionally, Thurmond wants to make sure residents know their tax proceeds are at work. So on Tuesday, he rolled out the “Penny Power” campaign and its accompanying mascots as a visible reminder.

“The public education awareness campaign is a light-hearted way to convey a serious message that the county is going to track and account for every penny, over $380 million,” Thurmond said in a statement.

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