By Pat Cooper
Last week the Peachtree City council gave an informal go ahead to the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, letting them know the city is interested in participating in a proposed SPLOST that could hit the ballot boxes in November.
Calling it a Core Infrastructure plan, the commission noted that the idea for the SPLOST arose from a series of three town hall meetings on the county’s Stormwater Utility bills, directly from many of the attendees.
Those residents, most of which were furious at the arrival of a Stormwater Utility bill without them even knowing the county had a Stormwater Utility, wanted the commission to determine a more even-handed way of getting the money it requires to fix the county’s crumbling infrastructure, by either rescinding the fees and raising the tax rate across the board for all county residents, or levying the fees on all the municipalities. However, as Brown explained at the meeting, since Fayetteville and Peachtree City already have their own Stormwater Utilities, the idea of charging them the fee, or raising the taxes to cover the problem, would be double taxation, something forbidden by legislation.
The county is currently looking at about $15 million or more in repairs to the county’s crumbling stormwater infrastructure. A local inventory of the county’s infrastructure showed that 13 percent of the above-ground structures are in poor condition and some 15 percent of stormwater pipes are in bad shape, including over 200 that are plugged.
The piping, mostly made of corrugated steel, has a life span of about 25 years -- meaning an increasing percentage of it needs repair or complete replacement, which is expensive.
The tax would include both the cities and the county and the revenue will be shared via the current sales tax distribution formula.
“We could raise enough funding to bring the stormwater systems of the cities and the county into a state of good repair with revenue in future years going to perpetual maintenance and aged-replacement. The good thing here is that out of county shoppers will be contributing to the fund.”
The anticipated SPLOST revenue breaks down to, approximately, $20.4 million for the county, $12.8 million for Peachtree City, $5.4 million for Fayetteville, $2.3 million for Tyrone and $197,940 for Brooks - a total of just over $41.2 million.
Last week, Peachtree City mayor Don Haddix noted he was opposed to the proposed SPLOST and would “actively campaign against it.”
In March, the city approved a $9.4 million bond issue for new construction projects and the remainder will go towards refinancing the 2007 stormwater revenue bonds and closing costs.
Though it was anticipated that the refinancing of the 2007 bonds would result in a total decrease in future debt service payments of approximately $540,000- or $40,000 per year- for the remaining 14 years of the bond, the city’s AAA credit rating, the city was actually able to do much better, with an interest rate of three percent, and the bonds are expected to save some $696,500 on the overall debt service.
“He [Brown] sent an email telling us why we needed it, how we should structure it, and how great it was for the county. I told him no. We just hit every citizen with a big rate increase. This would be a second tax on top of the first tax. It’s double taxation. We pay our own costs, we have our own utility. He can explain it anyway he wants, but we have a standing stormwater utility and billing system and the county has not paid a penny into it.
“With this we would be paying our own fees and paying for Fayetteville and the county’s utility repairs, no matter how you slice or dice it.
“And in this tax division, the lion’s share goes to the county; not to Peachtree and not to Fayetteville. It’s inherently unfair.”
Though the city wouldn’t have to use the funds for stormwater utility improvements, the label of core infrastructure would allow it to utilize the money to keep up with ongoing repairs to the city’s roads and cart paths, since the money in that fund is disappearing rapidly.
Councilman George Dienhart said he asked it be put on the agenda so he could find out what the rest of the council thought and because the county was looking for some direction from Peachtree City officials.
“They need to put together a program to either include us or not. I’m also wondering what we can do to replace funds for the roads and golf cart paths. We’ve’ already said we don’t know where that money is coming from next year.
“This has been dropped in our laps.. We don’t need to use it for stormwater repairs,” said Dienhart, “but for anything. It’s not double taxation in m opinion.”
Councilman Eric Imker’s opinion was there was no downside to the suggestion.
“We’re talking about a one cent sales tax for two years and it could generate $6.7 million per year for Peachtree City. It will double the city’s sales tax revenue for two years and that’s a quarter of the city’s budget.”
Imker noted that when the 2005 transportation sports was implemented between 2006 and 2010, the city only received a total of $10.5 million.
He said it was an opportunity to redirect potential windfall.
“Our fair share is based on the population,. This is an opportunity for us to redirect this potential windfall into something useful for the city right now. We’re hurting for the road and cart path maintenance. That averages about $1.5 million per year. We’ve budgeted about half million. We could substitute that for this potential SPLOST money and use that General Fund money elsewhere. We’ve been hurting since 2008 and we’ve been budgeting ourselves accordingly.”
Inker said that if the city dedicates the SPLOST funds to road and cart maintenance, it could conceivably fund those for the next six years to eight years.
“That’s huge. In the next eight years the fair market values will increase where we wouldn’t need a SPLOST to pay for it. We could use half of it for maintenance and conceivably the rest for new cart paths. We can do any sort of option. I know we have needs for an analysis of our bridges and cart path tunnels and that’s going to cost money. We have an opportunity to get $12.7 million and I’m trying to find a flaw with that proposal and I can’t.
“It’s an almost two to one increase using the SPLOST over raising the millage rate. It’s a huge windfall, but we can’t spend it on frivolous things, but on what we need.”
“I agree. A two-year tax could impact the city for six years. If we do things the right way, there’s not a downside to this.”
Haddix said he continues to oppose the SPLOST idea- or any new taxes at all- until the city gets a strategic plan in place and gets its spending under control. Additionally, he doesn’t believe that a SPLOST will fly with the voters.
He also reminded council members that with this being a joint SPLOST, that with each municipality determining it’s own proposal, but being presented in one proposal.
“Each one has their own proposal and the voters vote the whole thing up or down. We either all succeed or all fail. I don’t think the citizens are going to buy it.”
In an unofficial vote, the council told the commission they would take part in the SPLOST project and the city staff would develop a project list.