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Thursday September 3rd, 2015 4:52AM

Habersham and its cities reach consensus on SPLOST split

By Rob Moore Reporter
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CLARKESVILLE - Leaders from Habersham County and its cities have agreed on how they will split the proceeds of SPLOST VI if it passes later this year.

The formula was agreed upon during a more than two-hour joint municipal association meeting in Clarkesville Thursday night.

Under the formula, Habersham County would receive $18,653,966 of the estimated $30-million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collection.

Cities would receive proceeds as follows:

* Alto - $442,878;

* Baldwin - $1,754,438;

* Clarkesville - $1,800,831;

* Cornelia - $4,938,068;

* Demorest - $1,256,853;

* Mt. Airy - $881,226; and

* Tallulah Falls - $271,740.

Public safety and public health would be focuses of the proposed 1-cent sales tax, which would take the county back to 7 cents of tax on each dollar spent rather than the current 6 cents.

Goals of the county projects include reducing the reliance on property taxes and debt, most notably the debt created by the Habersham Medical Center expansion.

Plans include using 20 percent of SPLOST VI revenue (that 20 percent estimated at $7.5 million over six years) to pay a portion of the hospital bonds to minimize the financial burden on property taxpayers.

Other county goals include maintaining roads and bridges, maintaining and improving public safety and communications equipment, and job growth that could be created by $2 million toward buildout of the industrial park and a $633,000 local match to the airport taxiway return project (5 percent of the total project cost, the remainder of which come from federal funds).

Habersham County also would remount four ambulances (one per year) and purchase a new ambulance, replace a fire truck, and purchase two sheriff's office vehicles per year.

Currently, Habersham County government relies on residential property taxes for 67 percent of its revenue. County leaders want to bring in additional industry and other businesses to lower that figure closer to 50 percent.

Commission Chairman Chad Henderson explained the county does not receive any of the 6 cents currently collected in sales tax on each dollar spent.

The state gets 4 cents, and the board of education gets 1 cent for LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) and 1 cent for ELOST (Education Local Option Sales Tax), county officials explained.

Answering a question from Cornelia City Manager Donald Anderson, Henderson said any SPLOST proceeds over the $30 million anticipated collection would be divided between the county and cities under the same formula as the inital disbursements.

Victor Anderson is running unopposed for the seat of Chad Henderson, current county commission chairman, who is not seeking reelection.

"I didn't see a program presented tonight that would increase the operating budgets for the county, or for the most part - I didn't look indepth - for any of the municipalities," Anderson said. "That should be a selling point for the SPLOST also."

Anderson said that is unlike when the current Habersham County Courthouse was built, resulting in increased operating expenses for the county because it was an additional facility.

Several cities agreed to give up more than $14,000 each to help the Town of Tallulah Falls receive more money for projects.

"This SPLOST is a compromise," Demorest Mayor Rick Austin said. "You saw it tonight with cities giving up some of their revenue to benefit other cities."

Following more than two hours of discussion of Habersham Medical Center finances and debt, along with a summary of projects the leaders of each city and the county feel are important to them, officials summarized.

"Let's circle this back to the public safety and public health," Austin said. "That's what this SPLOST is about - and roads and bridges are part of public safety and public health. When you talk to your constituents, when you talk to folks about why this is important, it all wraps around public safety and public health."

If SPLOST VI is approved by Habersham County voters on Nov. 4, it would take effect on Feb. 1, 2015, and continue through 2021.
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