What’s Fayette’s Plan B if infrastructure SPLOST loses?
Rapson: Will stick with stormwater utility, issue bond for $5 million
If Fayette County voters turn down the proposed two-year sales tax at the polls next week, county officials have a Plan B to pay for its stormwater repair projects.
If voters say no, the county would continue charging a stormwater utility fee to all property owners in unincorporated areas to fund system repairs and improvements, County Administrator Steve Rapson said last week.
The idea is that in the immediate future the county could use a bond to finance those projects, with that bond being paid back by proceeds from the stormwater utility, Rapson explained. The hope is that the county could fund about $5 million in projects with such a bond.
That’s well short of the $16.8 million the county would get in via the special purpose local option sales tax to fund a wide range of projects from dam rehabilitation to culvert replacement and even routine maintenance by purchasing equipment to clean clogged stormpipe.
Explaining the rationale for sticking with the stormwater utility instead of adopting a property tax on unincorporated residents, Rapson noted there was strong sentiment at three public meetings on the utility to avoid an increase in property taxes.
In response to unincorporated county residents who have complained about the stormwater utility fee, the county commission has pledged to embargo the stormwater utility fees for a period of four years if county voters approve the sales tax.
Yet the homeowners who complained at those meetings also opposed the use of utility fees to fund stormwater improvements, arguing that the residents of Peachtree City and Fayetteville — who have paid stormwater utility fees for the past several years to fund stormwater improvements in their jurisdictions — should pay for similar projects in the unincorporated county.
That’s what some would argue is exactly what the sales tax would do: stick the cities with paying the bill. However, the county has sweetened the pot by giving a larger share than initially planned to Peachtree City, which plans to use its share for road and cart path repairs and improvements, and Fayetteville, which has tabbed a wide range of capital projects ranging from public safety to water and sewer services. Fayetteville is projected to get $6.7 million from the sales tax if it is approved.
The Southern Conservation Trust came out this week urging voters to “carefully consider” the SPLOST, noting that the projects will help improve water quality by keeping pollutants out of drinking water sources. SCT, which manages several nature areas in Fayette County, also stands to get $50,000 in funding from the sales tax to pay for a security gate and park entrance at The Ridge Nature Area, a 308-acre undeveloped site off Burch Road in Fayetteville.
In addition to the SPLOST stormwater projects, SCT contends Fayette County needs to address water quality issues such as urban demand, land planning, low return rates, legislation and personal demand, for example.
Local environmentalist Dennis Chase has argued strongly against the project list, claiming that the county plans to spend far too much money on projects whose justifications are questionable. Furthermore, Chase has assailed the county for lacking a master drainage plan that would allow it to gauge the effects of the proposed stormwater improvement projects.
It’s not just the county stormwater fee hanging in the balance with the sales tax vote. Without the sales tax, Peachtree City officials will have to find an estimated $1.5 million each year to pay for road and cart path improvements. Such projects have been paid for with proceeds from the 2004 countywide transportation SPLOST, and those funds were exhausted this year.
If the sales tax is approved, Peachtree City would get $14 million over the two-year period with plans to make the money stretch out over several more years.
If not, the city could look at bond financing to be repaid by the general fund or perhaps to a straight property tax increase, officials have said. Others have suggested further cuts to the city budget to accommodate the road and cart path repairs.
Because the sales tax is a countywide vote, registered voters from all over the county can cast a ballot whether they live in a city, town or in the unincorporated area.
Early voting in the election ends Friday afternoon at the Peachtree City and Tyrone libraries and also at the county’s elections office in downtown Fayetteville. Election day is Tuesday when all county polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters who are unclear about which precinct they must vote in can visit sos.ga.gov/mvp to access the “My Voter Page.”