DALTON, Ga. — The SPLOST advisory committee delivered recommendations for roughly $44 million in Whitfield County projects Monday night to the county’s Board of Commissioners, who aren’t inclined toward wholesale changes.
“I don’t expect many changes, just a tweak or two,” said Lynn Laughter, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. The commissioners “will take these (recommendations) very seriously.”
The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax advisory committee met more than a dozen times to hear proposals from various local governments and others and eventually recommended that certain projects be covered by a proposed SPLOST, while cutting others.
For the county’s share, projects recommended for funding include:
• Approximately $15.3 million for the recreation department to construct a new park in the south portion of the county and make improvements to fields at Westside Park and the Miracle Field.
• $9.1 million for Public Works for paving, structures and equipment replacement.
• Nearly $6.9 million for renovation and repair of the county courthouse, and security system replacement at the jail.
• Almost $4.7 million for the fire department to retire bond debt on Station 12 in the south end of the county, upgrade six of the county’s 12 oldest fire stations, replace two fire engines and provide alternative response vehicles to three of the busiest stations.
• $1.4 million for the sheriff’s office for vehicle replacements
• $800,000 for interest on possible bonds to jumpstart courthouse and south park projects
• $300,000 for brush removal and development of trails at Rocky Face Ridge Park.
• $200,000 for expansion and improvements at the county animal shelter.
Laughter is “so excited” to see funds dedicated to the Miracle Field, which is used by the Miracle League of Whitfield County, a baseball league for individuals with special needs, she said. She’s heard from numerous constituents that the Miracle Field and Westside Park are valuable amenities to the county.
The SPLOST advisory committee members understood the importance of that space to the community, said Chris Shiflett, chairman of the committee. The rubber surface for the Miracle Field will be nearing its end of life and in need of replacement in roughly five years.
The animal shelter was another area that found quick consensus on the committee, Shiflett said: “Everyone sees the need there.”
Shiflett urged the commissioners to consider covering expenses like road resurfacing and vehicles in the regular budget, rather than relying on SPLOST funds, in the future. However, he acknowledged that wouldn’t happen “overnight.”
Laughter agreed paving should be in the county’s budget, but commissioners must balance expenditures against raising taxes on citizens, she said. In fact, the county used to regularly allot $1 million for paving in the annual budget, but “we took it out when times got tough.”
Additionally, the SPLOST advisory committee recommended a nearly $5 million expansion of sewer service in the north and south ends of the county to stimulate residential development, and a $1.2 million renovation and expansion of the Dalton-Whitfield County Public Library — which would unlock another $2 million in funding from the state — to be funded through an intergovernmental agreement between the city of Dalton and the county.
The county “is never going to have money in the budget to do sewer projects,” Laughter said.
Shiflett concurred, calling those matters “true SPLOST.”
County voters defeated a proposed six-year, $100 million SPLOST in March, and the SPLOST advisory committee members settled on a four-year SPLOST for $66 million early in their deliberations. In order for a SPLOST referendum to be on the general primary ballot in May of 2020 — and, if passed by voters, to begin in October of 2020 — commissioners will have to send a resolution to the county elections office by Jan. 14.
Finally, the advisory committee recommended the remaining SPLOST funds — after the county’s share and the city of Dalton’s $19 million — be divided among the cities of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell. Under the advisory committee’s recommendation, Varnell would receive 1.7%, Tunnel Hill would receive 0.83% and Cohutta would receive 0.64%. Officials from those three cities will meet with the Board of Commissioners and City of Dalton officials to discuss SPLOST projects on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the fifth-floor meeting room of the Wells Fargo building, 201 S. Hamilton St. in Dalton.
A SPLOST is a 1% tax on most goods sold in the county. Revenues can be used for several types of projects, but not for general operating expenses.
Shiflett was joined by several other SPLOST advisory committee members on Monday, and each spoke to note they are fully behind the recommendations and would campaign for them in the lead-up to a vote.
“We’ll make an effort to promote this,” Shiflett said.
Members of the advisory committee have clearly “put a ton of hours into this,” Laughter said. “I really, really appreciate your service.”
In other business on Monday, the commissioners accepted a bid of $290,120 from Barry Smith Trails for construction of a nine-mile mountain bike trail at Rocky Face Ridge Park. Between grants and private funds, the county has $301,000 available for this project, which is expected to be finished by mid-summer of next year.
Commissioners also approved expenditures up to $25,850 for modifications to an intersection at the new Highway 201, old 201 and Lee’s Chapel Road. The county is asking the state to accept the new road as a state route, and the Georgia Department of Transportation is requiring a different configuration at this intersection. The county must purchase 2,077 stream migration credits to complete the 201 project. That total cost is roughly $187,000.
Finally, the commissioners approved acceptance of a grant from Shaw Industries to the county’s fire department for flooring and rugs. The fire department will receive 2,200 square feet of Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) flooring and two rugs, said Edward O’Brien, fire chief. Firefighters will install the flooring themselves.