After considerable debate at their Tuesday meeting, Crisp County Commissioners approved a funding proposal for the 2011 SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax).
Voters will be asked to approve the six-year one percent sales tax in March of 2011. This is not a new tax, but a continuation of the penny sales tax that already is being collected in Crisp County. The current SPLOST which was approved by voters in 2005 expires at the end of 2011.
So that there will be no break in collections, the referendum must be approved in March.
Pending voter approval, the county anticipates that during the six years in which the 2011 tax will be collected, a total of $25,275,000 will be generated.
Of that total, $8 million was committed for the higher education (Darton College) project in downtown Cordele. Another $1 million was allocated to the inland port project.
With in-kind contributions and commitments from community partners added to the SPLOST amount, County Administrator Gene Crapse said, a total of $12.6 million has been allotted to those two projects.
Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce’s higher education committee, chaired by Bob Evans, had requested a $10 million commitment to the higher education project.
Commissioner Wallace Mathis said there is a strong possibility that the county can obtain a USDA Rural Development loan to finance the additional $2 million needed for the higher education project. “Eight million dollars is an aggressive commitment from SPLOST,” he said. “We will continue working to get funds from whatever sources we can. This is coming together. It will work.”
Commissioner William Culpepper said some of his constituents have told him they think more money should be put in the inland port because it will create jobs. They say that South Georgia Tech put money into its facility, and they want Darton to do the same.
“Some people have told me they will vote against SPLOST no matter what’s on it,” Culpepper added.
Commissioner Brad Faircloth who has been the most vocal supporter of fully funding the higher education center said, “we have a downtown model that is not working. Sooner or later, something will have to be done. Put 1000 students downtown, and you’ll see new businesses and growth.
“We must assure that this project moves forward,” he added.
After all four commissioners at the meeting (James Harris was out of town) voted to approve the SPLOST spending plan proposed by Crapse, the county administrator implored higher education project supporters, “trust these guys to do their job.”
Caroline Fielding who has charge of the existing Darton facility in Cordele said the campus already serves 300 students. She projected that in the first semester after the downtown facility opens, that number will increase to 500.
“We will ask Albany State to bring its criminal justice and forensic programs and Georgia Southwestern to provide the last two years of an education degree which also will increase enrollment,” Fielding added.
Crisp County has been asked to provide the first 50,000 square foot building for the college campus. Any other buildings, a parking deck and other amenities will be added by the Board of Regents. That board also will assume the maintenance and operation of the entire campus.
Almost $12 million of the SPLOST will be divided among a variety of community and county entities including the detention center, Crisp Fire Rescue, Crisp Public Works, recreation, county roads, the sheriff’s department, sanitation, water and stormwater, county buildings, E-911, EMS, public safety and the airport.
City of Cordele will receive $4 million for several different projects, and Arabi’s share is $290,000.
Also during the Tuesday meeting:
• A resolution accepting a $500,000 grant for drainage improvements in the Omar Heights area was adopted, and an agreement was signed authorizing River Valley Regional Commission to administer the grant. This brings the total investment in that area of the county to $2.5 million.
• Commissioners approved a resolution honoring public safety personnel. These protectors of the people will be guests of honor at a dinner hosted by the Chamber Thursday night.
• Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 23-31 was proclaimed in Crisp County.
• Board members agreed to curtail several holiday activities in order to save money.