SPLOST vote: It should be ‘Yes’

Recent letters and articles have been encouraging folks to vote “No” on the SPLOST. Please consider the other side of the story.

We’re going to pay for the work whether the SPLOST passes or not. There are profound cost differences that need to be understood.

The county might not have every “i” dotted and “t” crossed as far as a total 100 percent plan but whoever does?

Yes, it would be nice to know what will happen three or five years from now, but the county is simply trying to step up and be more proactive in their planning.

The county knows of at least 181 storm water projects that need to be done. We’re going to pay for them with a relatively low cost SPLOST or a higher cost alternative.

The county will be taking care of 90-plus percent of the problem. In five years or so the county can do the right thing and establish its own stormwater utility paid for by a separate fee by those living in the unincorporated parts of the county. The annual bill might be $20 or so.

By passing the SPLOST, you’ll pay around $350 per household total over two years. Not passing it and you’ll eventually pay perhaps $800 with a millage increase over five years to get the same amount of money.

The difference is because with the SPLOST, everyone, including visitors to our county will help pay for the projects with the one penny sales tax. Without the SPLOST, 100 percent of the funding will come from YOU, the voters in this county in the form of a property tax or utility fee.

This exact same argument goes for Peachtree City and using SPLOST for their road and cart path maintenance.

The SPLOST naysayers never mention the facts about the cost alternatives to you like this. They are tormented by the idea of voting for any tax despite the favorable longer-term financial benefit it has.

They are telling you to eat $500 because they don’t want a penny tax for two years. Good grief. Being honest and telling the whole story goes a long way in securing the trust of the citizens.

The long-term plan should include transitioning from a SPLOST-funded stormwater program for the county, and road/cart path maintenance program for Peachtree City, to self-supported funding.

In the county this would be a true stormwater utility. In Peachtree City this would be the general fund that would slowly pick up the cost over the years of using SPLOST, and when the last of the SPLOST money is used, Peachtree City’s general fund would then be paying for it ... as it should be.

Make sure your politicians campaign on a transition plan so that there won’t be a need for another SPLOST for “non-special” purposes.

By the way, how many know that of the 160 counties in the state, Fayette is only one of eight counties that currently has a 6 percent sales tax. All others are 7 percent or higher.

Other counties are already getting an extra $20 million-plus a year to pay for their projects and a lot of that is coming from us.

How about asking them to help pay for our projects for a change?

Bonnie Mullikin
Peachtree City, Ga.

Steve Brown
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Broader picture base on decisions with future implications

Neil, I have curiously studied the "county vs. city" balance since around 1998. The narrative is something more likely to be found in the War College than in urban planning or economics classes.

Like all classic divisions of power there has been a heck of a lot of ego in the mix. In many cases the ego overrode common sense and sound planning.

Peachtree City was seen as an outsider for many decades, resented and forced to fend for itself. There is a reason the city has its own police, fire/EMS and recreation departments.

I personally worked on a lot of the "inequity" issues on behalf of Peachtree City. Most of the funding inequity or duplicate service payment issues have been resolved.

Currently, you have a Board of Commissioners who believe that if the cities/towns excel that the county will win also. Although that premise seems to be a no-brainer, the egos kept getting in the way previously. The level of cooperation between city-county is the best I have seen in the 20 years I have live in Fayette. Many other long-timers agree.

On the broader picture, what is the role of all jurisdictions in creating a solid, competitive Fayette County and maintaining an incredible quality of life? I take the approach that we are all role players and if each jurisdiction helps keep their end of the bargain, there should be some rewards. Examples like Gwinnett, North Fulton, DeKalb, etc. are what we should be trying to avoid.

After a rancorous year's worth of battling over Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) distribution, the current board with the cities and got it resolved in just two weeks. In that negotiation, I emphasized making sure that everyone succeeds is paramount to everyone's success.

The other jurisdictions gave Peachtree City some slack in the distribution formula knowing PTC needed the help. In the SPLOST distribution agreement, the county gave the cities more than the allotment called for in the state law. It is odd to outsiders that "cooperation" is not a natural tendency in local government, but we have pulled it off in 2013. Dienhart and Imker have been good people to work with on that front for PTC.

The "who is generating the sales tax" and "where I spend my money" arguments have historically lead the local jurisdictions to battle to the detriment of all. The role playing analogy means appreciating each jurisdiction for what they give to the whole.

Tyrone, Brooks and the unincorporated county could get sewer capacity and build the heck out of every greenspace in our borders a la Gwinnett County. Do we want that? The county could drastically change its comprehensive plan and triple our population, but, luckily, that has not happened (the recession probably saved us there, looking at the previous board).

I had serious talks with Fayetteville about NOT building more big box retail in the center of the county to protect PTC and the pavilion from further erosion. They have agreed with me. This is good for all of us (just go look at what is happening to older retail shopping areas in other counties).

Fayette County put funding into Fairburn's study for the I-85 and SR 74 interchange. That was an extremely unconventional move. However, our future depends upon solving that problem. Likewise, any single jurisdiction in Fayette can be brought down by the decline of any other jurisdiction.

As I said before, the egos are out of the way right now and we are trying to figure out how we can keep everyone's boat floating. We MUST do this to be competitive on attracting high paying jobs and affluent new families.

NUK_1
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Who is impersonating Steve Brown?

No way this is the same guy because here lately he is starting to make a lot more sense and show leadership instead of being a rabid attack dog.

Not sold on the SPLOST, but at least it's an intelligent discussion about it.

NeilSullivan
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Commissioner Brown - Not sure I agree

If as a PTC taxpayer I pay around $150 for storm water and the non city person pays 0 I am behind $150 at the starting line.

Now we both pay county taxes that should go to roads. Are these funds distributed proportionally across the county (ie to the cities as well as the non cities)?

Now to the SPLOST. We both know I will buy in if I agree with the business case. If each of us spend $20,000 in SPLOST eligible purchases in the 2 year period, we will both spend $200. However, I will have spent the majority in PTC as my wife keeps the Loft in business. But a large part of my $200 would go to the non city storm water, not our PTC cart paths and roads which I still wonder if we get our proportionate share of county road $. But I also see where the non cities have chosen a more rural setting which is fine, but now seek to use the commercial centers in the cities to mainly benefit the non cities.

If we follow H&F's idea of a one time $150 charge in PTC, I spend $300 and every dollar is spent in PTC. Under the other scenario I spend $350 with maybe $260 +/- going to PTC. You can see where I am getting stuck.

That said I still do not know what I will do. That is exactly what I have told everyone who asks. I wish you luck and appreciate what you guys at the County Commission are doing.

Take Care,

Neil

Steve Brown
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The math and other assorted things

MRobinson is correct, we (the county at least) are begging. The one problem we have at the county is decades long neglect of the stormwater infrastructure, including no past long-term funding plan for maintenance and repairs. The magnitude of the problem we now have is significant.

I have been a critic in the past of the figures used for “out of town” sales tax participation. Numbers used have been as high as 35% which is crazy. I will say that 15% is probably in the ballpark, but there is no way to calculate a definitive figure.

You are right that bonding the projects is an option. On the county side, we looked at that option. We would have to bond off of unincorporated stormwater utility proceeds which would give us just portion of the funding we actually need. Again, ours is a decades-old problem which has exacerbated the weaknesses of some of the funding options.

The county would probably have to bond in the small increments if the Core Infrastructure SPLOST does not pass. However, it will not solve all our problems.

Regarding your comment, “But go ahead and listen to the commissioners - they obviously have your best interests at heart. They listened to you when you griped about paying your $50 stormwater bills, so they answered by saying pay us 8 times as much in the next two years.” The Board of Commissioners does not issue the bills for stormwater in Peachtree City; that would be the City Council.

The Finance Department made the revenue calculation based upon past LOST and SPLOST collections and spending has remained fairly flat over the last couple of years. But who knows where the economy is heading?

mrobinson_ptc
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Steve Brown - rock and a hard place?

Some clarifications for the honorable Chairman:

The "$50 stormwater bills" comment I made was alluding to the County Commission. I am aware of who bills for PTC's stormwater. I was making observation about the outrage when the unincorporated County taxpayers got their bills.

I was shocked to see that Fayette County brings in $20 million dollars a year in sales tax revenue. That would relate to $2 billion dollars a year in sales in Fayette County (including cars sold to Fayette County residents). That also means that the State of GA gets $80 million a year from Fayette County sales taxes, and the BOE gets $20 million from sales taxes.

So I went to the County's most recent CAFR (FY2012) - and what was the sales tax number? $10,011,105. But that's not all of the sales tax collected - that's just the County's portion

PTC's sales tax is 2012 was reported in their CAFR as $6,693,327.
Fayetteville's was reported in their CAFR as $2,374,473.

I stand corrected - Fayette County does bring in that much based on what the jurisdictions report.

It still doesn't answer my assertion about the equivalent 5.7 millage rate increase on the property owners of the entire county for two years. Pay me now or pay me later, but in the case of the unincorporated county, it's pay me now AND pay me later.

I understand that your bond capacity is limited, but I still don't believe that paying cash for these long term fixes is the most equitable way to fund this.

I understand the assets were neglected and need to be fixed, but I still assert that funding it in this manner is not in the long term best fiscal interests of the citizens of the County living here now.

Good luck with that - the County should have planned this and done what they were supposed to do all along. Make hard choices that don't involve taking more money from us without making provisions to fund this for the long haul and spread the costs over the useful life of the assets. If a pipe will last for fifty years, at least pay for it over 20 instead of paying for it all at once.

Same goes for the jurisdictions, too.

Steve Brown
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Mrobinson_ptc

No argument from me on planning long-term payments for infrastructure. That is sound fiscal policy.

Our problem, this time around, is we have pipes with a 25 year lifespan (corrugated metal pipe - not the current standard) that have been under some roads for more 30 years. We do no have the financial capacity to deal with it all.

The sad part is many of the roads have been worked on and repaved and the old pipes were left in place. It is a lot like the deterioration of the water system infrastructure we are dealing with.

If anyone needs problems, I have plenty to share.

For unincorporated county stormwater fee recipients, our Board of Commissioners has promised to not assess the stormwater fee for the next four consecutive years to offset having to pay the sales tax. It will take us, most likely, five years just to complete the list of projects. After which stormwater fees will be set aside for long-term maintenance and replacement of that infrastructure.

Steve Brown
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Answer to Mrobinson_ptc’s post below

If the Core Infrastructure SPLOST passes, it is the easiest way to go, no interest and out of county shoppers kick-in too.

I voted for the last FCBOE SPLOST because they were in huge trouble and the BOE members who caused the problems were gone. We are certainly distressed too.

We cannot “hike up the property taxes in the unincorporated county” without hiking up the taxes for county residents in the cities too. We were told that creating a special tax district would be close to impossible. We do have the stormwater utility, but with the outstanding project list, the “corrected” fee would be gigantic.

TAD is not an option in this case.

There is no real harm with having the Core Infrastructure SPLOST on a November ballot. If it does not pass, we will have to look at other options because the infrastructure is failing in the ground and holding off on replacement is not a choice we have.

Theprez
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What if as is happening in Cowetta County

I copied this off another article where sales tax is down in a neighboring county. This could happen here.

Revenue collections for the school system’s 1-percent sales tax (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) from October 2012 through September 2013 was reported at $19,714,947. That figure compares to the $20,666,487 collected for the same period a year earlier, a difference of $951,540 and representing a 4.6 percent decrease

mrobinson_ptc
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Define "gigantic" - part 1...

"Special Tax District would be close to impossible".

You have one for County Fire and County EMS - in 2004 and 2005, as Mayor of PTC, you advocated for special tax districts for those purposes? What makes this different?

Again, let's do the math on the property tax hypothesis...

What would the property tax need to be to gain $16 million dollars in two years across the vaulation of properties in the unincorporated county?

Well, I only have some Census figures, so let's guess:

1. According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Fayette County has 32,070 owner occupied housing units. If you remove PTC, Tyrone and Fayetteville, that total goes down to 16,097.

2. The majority of the value ranges from $100,000 to $499,999, with over 50% between 200K and 500K. So, I'm going to give a rough average of $350,000 for a Fayette County home.

3. 40% of $350,000 is $140,000. This would be the rough average valuation for tax purposes.

4. One mill of tax on $140,000 tax value house is $140.

So, 16,097 houses times $140 is $2,253,580 - again, these are all swags.

We need $16.7 million in two years, so $8.35 million a year.

In terms of millage, that would equate to 3.705 mills, or $518.70 on that $350K house.

Using my previous $200K example, you'd pay $300 a year, about $150 more than the SPLOST example. 1/3 of you would pay that amount or less.

2/3 of you would pay in the $518 ballpark or more if it were related to property tax., but I also guess that you also spend more in sales taxes too.

But you said it would be five years to complete the fixes - do we need all of the money in two years, or can we go to five?

If we spread the collection out to five years, that's $3,340,000 per year.

On the $350K house, that relates to 1.48 mills, or $207.20 per year for the five years.

You get the money you need in five years to do the fixes in five years, at a cost to the unincorporated homeowner of about 1/2 of what you're proposing for the SPLOST. The cities don't get any of the revenue, which is fine, because this is a county problem in the first place, right?

So in short, one could argue you're just lazy and are looking for an easy way out. It took me 30 minutes to run the math on this hypothesis, get you the same amount of money you need to fix things (in cash, by the way, which I still don't think you need to do), and without impacting the homeowners of Fayette County to the extent the SPLOST will do.

Please, sell us on the SPLOST with numbers, Steve, because I do see real harm in this SPLOST. You could have solved this already without asking us if it's OK.

Steve Brown
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Husband and Father

The stormwater fee was processed, but to answer your and Mrobinson's point, I am not even certain if a 300% increase on the fee would cover the debt service.

On the West Fayetteville Bypass, we got the third phase eliminated. As you know, on phase two Frady, Horgan and Hearn rushed all the construction contracts through for the work in 2012. Commissioner McCarty and I voted against it. There was not much else we could do.

NUK_1
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Sorry Steve

You campaigned long and loud while running for FC Commission about how you were going to stop WFB and you 100% knew you would never have the votes to do that since it was only you and McCarty opposed and the other 3 weren't going to budge. That was very disingenuous of you.

Husband and Fat...
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Thank you sir

I will process everything and make my choice at the ballot.

Husband and Fat...
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Transparency

Does not mean one needs to be a pushover to the loud minority.

We would be on to bigger and better issues had commission just stated that the fee was set in place last year and its too late to change. No different than what they did with the WFB after promising to stop it as a first order a business.

The existing plan works and the claim that others from out of county help pay, makes us look like a bunch of democrats wanting a handout.

Comparing this to the education splost is comparing apples and oranges.

mrobinson_ptc
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SPLOST Alternatives - Using the Stormwater Fee

So, the county has advised that the net billing for the stormwater utility for 2013 was $612,851.

The billing calculation, as reported on the County's stormwater website, is a formula that divides the total impervious surface by 1000, then multiplies that by .35 for a monthly charge, then multiplies that by 12 for the yearly charge.

Running the math backwards, that means the unincorporated County has 145,916,905 square feet of impervious surface being billed.

If we go back to the $16.7 million the County needs, and we go back to Chairman Brown's assertion it will take 5 years to fix, that's $3,340,000 per year.

That would increase the stormwater bill you received 5.44 times higher.

So, how much was the average stormwater bill in the County?

http://www.thecitizen.com/articles/12-05-2012/get-ready-your-bill-fayett...

So with an average of 6,400 square feet of impervious space per parcel in unincorporated Fayette, the annual bill will be $26.88. Birrell said the rate for the unincorporated areas is one of the lowest in the state.

Raise that $27 by 5.5, and that's $148.50 a year to take care of the issue. Raise the stormwater utility fee in the next five years, then pull it back when you've finished the fixes. In five years, that's $742.50, still less expensive than the SPLOST estimates for a county property owner based on my math.

Again, one could argue the SPLOST is a lazy and short sighted response to a problem the Commission could have fixed, but they chose to listen to a whiny reaction. One could say that those who complained will end up paying more in the end, or, perhaps, push the costs for their properties onto others, which is not equitable.

So....alternatives to the SPLOST abound, and that's why I won't support it. Sure it's easy, but to me, the county's taxpayers end up paying more...again, show your math as to why it's better.

mrobinson_ptc
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Steve Brown - so why put it up to the voters?

If the maintenance is so critical, why waste time and energy with a SPLOST and instead just raise the property tax or stormwater fees? Why risk, in this time of "no new tax" and the FCBOE fiscal messes, bringing this up to a vote which, if rejected, means you'll just have to raise the taxes anyway?

I believe I have shown the burden is mostly going to fall on the property owners, based on the math I layed out if the SPLOST is approved. So, for two years, hike up the property taxes in the unincorporated county to get the 16 million dollars needed (the special tax district I think was alluded to in the Q&A's on the county website). How much would property taxes need to go up for an average property owner in those two years to offset the sales tax revenue estimates? I think knowing that number and comparing it to the $456 per year for sales tax would be helpful information to compare. Would it be more or less per year than 5.7 mills?

What is the total valuation of properties in the unincorporated county? How much revenue would you get by raising the tax rate 1 mill in the unincorporated county? This should be an easy answer, but I don't have the data - can you provide it?

Run the TAD district for four years, use bonds to fund the five years worth of expenses, or even spell out year by year how much you would need to raise property taxes to meet a yearly spending target. We pay property taxes for roads, why not do it for stormwater like this?

If the elected officials (not just county, but municipalities too) pursued this course of action, thereby attempting to lower the tax paid by the property owners and attempt to spread the costs out over the longer term, then re-initiated the stormwater fee in year, it would be in the best interest of the fiscal needs of the citizens, in my opinion.

It would also be political suicide, so I guess that's why it goes to the voters.

My take - if a majority of property owners have mortgages, they may already pay their taxes in escrow. When the taxes go up, their escrow amounts will change, which will lead to an increase in monthly payments they make. It will, presumably, net out to the same increase they'd see by paying it in sales taxes, without the risk of voter rejection in a low turnout election year.

Man up, raise the taxes or stormwater utility fees, get the revenue, then pull it back when you've got the funding you need. Either way, it's going to hurt, but do your job and make the hard decisions. You don't need our permission to do it - setting tax rates is the primary thing we pay you to do.

NUK_1
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mrobinson is laying it out there!

Can't disagree with anything he/she has been stating lately on the SPLOST issue and makes some great points, and with details to back them up. Good job!

mrobinson_ptc
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SPLOST - Why I don't support it...doing the math,,,

...once again, the myopic, reactive local governments attempt to beg the citizens for permission to tax them, saying how neglected maintenance has been and how they'll do better. Heard this song and dance before?

I have commented elsewhere on this site regarding the reasons I do not believe this SPLOST is a good idea (inequity, paying with cash, you'll end up paying more when it's all done, no true plan, etc.). The one point I wanted to elaborate on was who will pay the SPLOST. Proponents like to hang their hat on "outsiders" paying the sales taxes. I've asked on this forum for anyone to provide specific, measurable data that outlines how many people shop from outside our area. I doubt that I will get that.

I also wanted to see how much of our tax would be paid by non-owners of property from within the county, so I let my fingers do the walking and found the following statistics:

(Source = http://suburbanstats.org/population/georgia/how-many-people-live-in-faye...)

Of the 38,167 households in Fayette County, 6,541 of those are renter occupied. That's 17.1%

So, let's assume for sake of argument that 15% of the sales tax collected in Fayette County is from folks outside the county. So we have 85% of that collected from those who are in the county.

17% of 85% is 14.5 (roughly)

So - we'll have 15% out of county, 15% in county non-owner and 70% in county owners paying the SPLOST if approved.

They want to collect $41,245,988 in two years.

Break that out now:

Non-County Sales Tax = $6,186,898.20
County Renters Sales Tax = $6,186,898.20
County Owners Sales Tax = $28,872,191.60

So, if we have 31,626 owner occupied households in the county, making an untrue assumption that everyone will pay the same amount in sales tax, that means your portion comes out to $912.93 cents in the two years, or roughly $456.26 a year in additional SPLOST taxes.

Hey, a tax is a tax, right?

If you owned a $200,000 home, using the 40% of value (the GA calculation for property tax, I believe), the taxable value of it would be $80,000.

That's a "millage rate increase" of 5.70325 mills in the next two years. If any government proposed that kind of a property tax increase, these blogs would be filled with outrage!

So, just know, property owners, you'll pay an equivalent millage rate increase of 5.7 mills for the next two years, and if you live in the county, you'll keep paying more each year thereafter.

If the county and municipalities would use their excellent credit ratings to just fund these infrastructure fixes over the long term, as they should have always done, your tax impact would be substantially less.

But go ahead and listen to the commissioners - they obviously have your best interests at heart. They listened to you when you griped about paying your $50 stormwater bills, so they answered by saying pay us 8 times as much in the next two years. And they're going to pay cash for it all (well, except for Fayetteville, but that's not important, right?) instead of spreading the costs out to your fellow citizens over the life of the improvements/fixes.

Oh, and back to my untrue assumption - $456 dollars a year of a 1 penny sales tax would assume that you would spend $45,600 per year on items that are taxable. That's $3,800 a month. Do you spend that much on items that you would pay sales taxes on in the County? So, I also ask, do you think that they'll meet the SPLOST collection goals? I will admit I make SWAG assumptions, but that's the same thing they're doing when they propose these projects.

Vote NO on the SPLOST. Tell the governments to do their jobs and fund maintenance properly and for the long term.

Ms Mullikin and County Commission - time to show the math on your side.

Husband and Fat...
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Ms. Mullikin

Tell us the truth. Are you a homeowner that will benefit from the proposed fixes?

People are going to complain no matter what tax or fee is presented. Before I vote yes, I would want to know what if any changes are planned on the fee once the splost runs out. We dont need more time wasted while commission keeps kicking the fee structure down the road, because the can may fall into a hole.

Steve Brown
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Neil

Neil, I am not sure where the “PTC taxpayer is paying twice for stormwater” argument is coming from. You are the third person I have seen use it.
The county government is using its proceeds for stormwater. Peachtree City is going for road and multi-use path maintenance with its share, not stormwater.

In fact, the cities will receive more than their formulated share of the funding.

On does Peachtree City need the money, I believe every member of the City Council has said there is very little funding in this budget and future budget projections for road and cart path maintenance. I think the figure needed is $1.5 million per year. Have that discussion with your council members.

moelarrycurly
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Chairman on paying twice

As you know, PTC now bills twice a year, not once. This "tax" (fee) has doubled. This is not going unnoticed like some tax hikes. An invoice in the mail is much more visible than a few dollars added to your monthly mortgage payment. The burden is being borne by those who are paying these fees now, as opposed to those who will benefit for years to come.

An example. I was on the cart path last week, and came upon a contracted crew working on a round culvert that goes under Crosstown and comes out on both sides of the road right next to the cart path. I stopped and talked with the boss. He said this culvert had been neglected so long (probably forever) that the bottom had worn away and this cement structure was sitting now, open on the bottom, on bare ground which he said made it unsound and it could collapse on itself (picture an upside down U, instead of an O). The road above then could collapse as a result. A major artery in PTC. Which is scheduled for a complete new paving job. It is good that this work is being done in preparation for the paving coming up, but how many of these are there here? If there was no paving coming up, how long would this have been allowed to erode without being addressed?

I asked him if this is a common problem in his line of work. He said only if proper ongoing maintenance is not done. He told me these culverts are built to last 50 years or more and most do, IF they are maintained. The road this is built under is less than 30-35 years old.

My issue with any of this has to do with once the fix has been done, who is budgeting ongoing money, time and staff to do the proper inspections and maintenance of all of our infrastructure. Same in county.

NeilSullivan
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H&F This is my concern at a higher level

Having just paid my PTC Stormwater bill, I keep coming back to this SPLOST asking PTC and Fayetteville tax payers to pay twice while others pay only the SPLOST. Then looking at where a large portion of the commercial activity will be generated, PTC and Fayetteville, you have to ask is this a good deal for PTC taxpayers? Do we need the money? Yes, but I am not sure this is the answer as presently positioned.

Can ( not will) the commission impose the tax to level the playing field before we vote?

Take Care

Husband and Fat...
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Neil - They won't touch it with a 10 ft pole

I highly doubt commission wants to touch this tax with a 10 foot pole. The tax/fee was approved and in place before they took office in January. Once county residents got their bills they started to complain about the fee structure.

Commission choose to abandon this and proposed the splost bringing the cities into the picture.

Besides not having a stormwater plan in place, they elected to propose fixing so many projects, not knowing the affects they will have with water that will eventually go into our drinking water.

The problem is that in a few years, the county still won't have a fee structure in place.

Does PTC need funding for our paths. Absolutely. But I think it should come from our budget only.