County commission chairman Keith Greene is quick to point out that this would not be a new tax, but simply continuing on with the tax funding currently in place. County manager Mike Helton said, “Our basic infrastructure is the same from year to year. Being able to use SPLOST money takes the pressure way from having to seek other ways to fund these necessary projects.” It is projected that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of funds raised via SPLOST comes from those living outside the county.
In addition to new sewer work in the county, Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold, county residents will also see funds allocated for public safety, recreation, Catoosa Utility, new county construction and road and bridge work, new vehicles and continued courthouse renovation.
The total in SPLOST funds budgeted across the three governments is $60,000,000, with the county taking the lion’s share with $50,350,000. Although, as Helton points out, “You have to keep in mind that the county portion will serve all three jurisdictions. The amounts given to the cities are their portion that can use solely for their city’s use.” Fort Oglethorpe will receive $7,150,000 and Ringgold gets $2,500,000. Helton said that historically the SPLOST budget is funded at about 80 percent.
The county currently has SPLOST-funded sewer projects in the Talley Court and Edison-Sutton areas, as well as in the West Chickamauga, Ringgold and Peavine basins. The sewer portions are allocated at $12,400,000 and will serve residents countywide.
Catoosa Utility District
$2,300,000 is allocated to update and install new water lines and fire hydrants. With SPLOST funds allocated in the past, the county has begun to see an increase in benefits and its firefighting abilities. The county currently holds an ISO rating of 5 and 9 but stands to see an increase following inspections completed late last year. County residents could see even further reductions in fire insurance with new SPLOST allocations.
While each of the recreation programs in Fort Oglethorpe, Ringgold and Boynton is slated to receive some $250,000 in funds, the county Board of Commissioners this year decided to place a substantial amount of money in a countywide pool for recreation. This SPLOST cycle would see $2,263,101 going towards upgrading the sports complex at Jack Mattox fields.
A wish list has been created to upgrade various features of the complex. Among those items that could be completed are: a new main entry, rebuilt parking with enhanced landscaping, ticket booths, a pedestrian corridor, ball field drainage improvements, pond expansion, up to three pavilions, additions to the maintenance building and concession area and restrooms, a playground with shade structure, batting cages and lighting. While Helton was quick to point out that not all of these could be accomplished in the remaining SPLOST-cycle, several could be finished.
New buildings, vehicles and equipment make up the allocated SPLOST funds for the county fire department and sheriff’s office. Slated for construction are two new fire stations with at least two engines each. One is set for the Yates Springs area while the other is set for the Ga. 151 north area. The second area is crucial according to Helton, as a new elementary school will be constructed in that locale. The location is beyond the ISO five-mile limit and with a school will come increased residential growth, said Helton. The fire department’s slice of the SPLOST pie is $6,200,000.
The Sheriff’s Office will see $3,022,399 in budgeted additions. This will provide 68 new fully-equipped patrol cars. This is in addition to seven new Dodge Chargers paid for out of current SPLOST funds for a total of 75 vehicles. Past funding was for only 37 cars, putting the sheriff’s fleet behind the curve in fleet maintenance. Helton said, “We have catching up to do, but we will get (sheriff Sisk) caught up.”
In a joint request, Sisk and EMA director Steve Quinn asked for a mobile radio cache to be used in a disaster such as the tornado of 2011. This $255,630 expenditure will increase the available radios by one-third. Another $658,569 is slated to go for upgrades to the 911 center for software and a universal clock for stamping all tapes and documents with the same time source.
Roads and bridges
This is another big-ticket item, coming in at $9,000,000. This is one area for which the Board of Commissioners is solely responsible. With state and federal funds dwindling, SPLOST money is extremely important to keep up with road and bridge maintenance. These funds, in many cases, are used as matching funds to grants.
A recent study showed that the county would need $15,000,000 every five years to stay current on its roadwork. Helton said that a system is now in place much like what the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) uses in which every road is prioritized. When working on main thoroughfares, rather than just put a new top-cover of asphalt down, road crews are building from the bottom up. By keeping the roads at this level, crews can soon move off the main roads and start working on streets within subdivisions, said Helton.
County vehicles and equipment
This line item of $2,164,500 will be utilized to provide vehicles for most of county government — areas such as planning and zoning, code enforcement, animal control and recreation, to name a few. One new vehicle required will be for a new hire full-time emergency actions director who will also oversee the 911 center. The only big-ticket item under this area is a new color copier/scanner for the planning and zoning office.
Public buildings and grounds
The only new buildings scheduled are the two new fire stations funded under the public safety line item. “The only option we have is take care of what we have,” said Helton. The bulk of this $800,000 line item will be used for repairs and refurbishment to existing facilities.
For the first time, these projects have been broken out from under roads and bridges. “Hopefully,” said Helton, “this will allow us to do a better job of funding these projects.” This line item is set at $3,000,000.
Retire indebtedness and economic development
With Costco revenue coming in strong, this $6,700,000 will allow the county to pay off much of its indebtedness. Catoosa County currently rates in the top five for lowest taxes/millage (property tax) rates in the state. Walker County sits at No. 2, but residents there pay a fire fee on top of property taxes.
Global information system
The $300,000 here budgets for two flyover mappings to aid the survey department with new road construction and other construction. This also provides a great benefit to 911 operators when dispatching public safety vehicles.
This $2,200,000 is scheduled to fund the second phase of current courthouse enhancements, including a possible second floor over the magistrate’s office. “These enhancements will give us many, many good years of use out of this beautiful building,” said Helton.