Stephens Co. Holding Firm on SPLOST VI Negotiations

Stephens County Commissioners are holding firm to their call to receive 75 percent of the revenues if voters approve SPLOST VI this Fall.

Representatives from the county, along with the cities of Toccoa and Martin attended a joint SPLOST VI meeting Monday at Toccoa City Hall. Avalon was not in attendance.

During the meeting, Stephens County Commissioner Dean Scarborough again said the county had to have 75 percent of SPLOST VI revenues, up from just under 65 percent that the county is receiving in the current SPLOST.

Scarborough said a number of things are cutting into the county’s general fund, especially the repayment of debt owed on the construction of the Stephens County Jail and unfunded mandates from the state, that are limiting funds the county has to take care of other needs.

He said it is non-negotiable that the county needs 75 percent of SPLOST revenues in order to take care of those needs without raising the millage.

“I think what we need to be doing from this time forward is deciding how we are going to spend our shares,” said Scarborough. “The citizens cannot afford about a 3-mil increase in taxes.”

Based on the highest SPLOST VI revenue projection of $21.2 million, the county is proposing to receive nearly $16 million of that based on the 75 percent figure.

Out of that $16 million, the county proposes spending $11.9 million on roads, bridges, and culverts, along with $1.5 million on sheriff’s office vehicles and $900,000 on ambulance vehicles.

Toccoa City Manager Mike Jackson said the county is not the only government entity dealing with tight budgets and requirements from the state.

“We feel your pain, but we want you to feel ours too,” said Jackson. “We have pain just like you all do.”

Toccoa Mayor David Austin said that the consensus of the city commission is that the SPLOST VI revenue division would mirror SPLOST V, with the county receiving just under 65 percent and Toccoa receiving about 35 percent, with Martin receiving a small percentage.

Meanwhile, Stephens County Commissioner Dennis Bell also used the meeting to criticize the city’s decision to raise water rates on county water customers.

Last month, the city commission voted to increase the water rate for a county customer across the board to 1.25 times the water rate of a city customer.

Bell said he doesn’t feel that is right.

“I want to put it (the rate increase) for everybody, treat everybody the same, not just the people in the county,” said Bell.

Bell also said that the county was unaware the city was considering such a move and adds the city should have contacted the county commission first.

Jackson said the city should have picked up the phone, but adds that the city had discussed the idea for some time.

“That increase was brought up in work sessions, brought up in commission meetings, covered in the media,” said Jackson. “It was not like we got in a dark room and made a decision.”

Jackson also said that a 1.25 differential between city and county water rates is much smaller than the differential that exists in many other areas.

Officials from the county and the municipalities will get back together next month for another SPLOST VI meeting.

County voters are scheduled to vote on SPLOST VI this November.