Sorting out the SPLOST
DULUTH− Mayor Nancy Harris and city council members got together Monday night in hopes of devising a well categorized list of projected 2014 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax−commonly known as SPLOST−expenditures to be placed on the referendum.
Since 2001, there has been a progressive increase in the division of SPLOST revenue. City Manager Tim Shearer noted that in 2001 SPLOST revenue was split almost 50/50 between Parks and Recreation and Transportation. The city has come a long way since then and has now taken on more specific projects.
One of the proposed projects would include adding art to a roundabout in the city. As a whole, members of the council were in favor of the project. But there was one thing keeping them from moving forward with the plan. The city recently found out that that two of the three roads making up the roundabout are not under city ownership.
Under the Service Delivery Strategy settlement, McClure Bridge Road and West Lawrenceville Street—the streets in question—were given back to Gwinnett County to maintain. In order to move forward with the Gateway Art Project, the city will have to regain maintenance responsibility of the two streets.
“Didn’t the city just rebuild that whole stretch of road? And then we gave it back to the county after we rebuilt it? There’s something wrong with this equation,” said Councilman Kelly Kelkenberg.
“I was shocked when I found out that we had given that away,” said Councilwoman Marsha Bomar after noting how special West Lawrenceville Street was to the city.
Regardless of the art project in the roundabout, the city is looking into the steps it would need to take to regain maintenance control of the streets. Of the two street–running right through the heart of the city–West Lawrenceville Street doubles as a showcase.
While council members were excited to take back the streets, Duluth resident Jesse Graham was more concerned about the costs the city would have to pay.
“I just wanted to remind you that the reasons for giving back to the county are still very valid. And when we were discussing the roundabout art project, it was said that it would not cost the city anything. But if you pull those streets back in, every dollar we have to spend on future maintenance on those streets−which the county probably won’t ever take ‘em back−will be a cost to the city for that art project. And so my stance is asking you to please continue to work with the county to make an art project happen, but don’t put the money back on the city for reclaiming those streets,” said Graham to the council.
Another item on the SLOST project list was the question of restoring Rogers Bridge, which stretches over two different cities in two different counties. In order to move forward with the restoration the City of John’s Creek, located in Fulton County, would also have to be on board with the plan.
“John’s Creek is dead set on it not happening,” said Mayor Harris.
Councilman Billy Jones joked that they should go ahead with the bridge restore and put a sign up, keeping Fulton out. Kelkenberg suggested charging a toll, jokingly.
City Clerk Teresa Lynn proposed the idea of the city purchasing its own voting equipment. She claimed the city would benefit because it wouldn’t have to compete with other cities for voting machines when city elections were being held simultaneously. The advantages to the city would own its own voting equipment and being able to keep them at the City Hall. Lynn did mention several times that there are issues with the city purchasing DRE machines, on behalf of the Department of Justice, in which she has yet to find out why.
Council members went back and forth over the proposal. But upon realization that aspects of the proposal couldn’t be covered by the SPLOST revenue, Councilman Billy Jones interjected.
“Excuse me, I don’t want to be rude but we’re talking about $50,000. We need to discuss $20 million. Let’s get on the big ticket item before we worry about $50,000,” said Jones as he grew impatient with the pace of the conversation.
Councilwoman Bomar later added that “by the time you get the equipment, we might be doing online voting,” in reference to the city owning its own voting machines.
It appeared that purchasing voting machines for the city wasn’t as much of a priority as it was expected to be.
The council concluded the 2014 SPLOST project list for the upcoming referendum, placing and categorizing what is expected to be the most important projects to the city and its citizens on the ballot. But more importantly the list was constructed in a way that would encourage people to come out and vote.
“They have to make it sexy,” said Graham about the SPLOST allocation project list. “Within the last year the city has built a dog park and a senior living center, they have to do something to get the people to come out and vote,” he concluded.