Rather than a single special-purpose, local-option sales tax, some Glynn County Commissioners want to impose two separate SPLOSTs over seven years.
Proposed by commissioners David O’Quinn and Wayne Neal at the group’s Tuesday work session, the plan would require a “seven-year vision” covering a two-year SPLOST from 2020 to 2022 and another five-year SPLOST from 2022 to 2027.
The special-purpose, local-option sales tax is a one percent sales tax proposed by local government agencies and approved or denied by voters at the ballot box. A SPLOST can run from one to six years, depending on the types of projects on the ballot. SPLOST 2020 will be on the ballot in the May 2020 primary election.
Revenue from the tax must be spent in accordance with what’s described on the ballot. That likely won’t be a full list of projects, but government agencies hope that a detailed list of what they plan to do will sway the public to vote for the tax.
The two proposed the plan because they felt it would be the more responsible option when dealing with a $20 million Glynn County Courthouse expansion project and help restore faith in a citizenry they felt doubted the county’s ability to follow through on a SPLOST 2020.
Doug Kleppin, an architect with architecture and engineering firm Heery, presented the commission with a summary of a larger report on some early plans for the courthouse expansion.
Its entire plan, which includes adding two new wings to the courthouse — one for Glynn County Juvenile Court and another for the Glynn County Superior Court, court clerk’s office and jury assembly — upgrading security throughout the building, renovations to the existing building, and paving the nearby grass parking lot would cost around $19.4 million today.
An alternate version of the plan showed single two-story wing on the west wide of the building rather than two wings. He said a single new wing would allow the county to “bank” the rest of the land on the other side for future use.
The report also included an estimate for the year 2023, which is when the commission believes it would likely start on the project if SPLOST 2020 is approved by voters in May.
Accounting for inflation, the 2023 estimate came out to $21.6 million.
Given that the commission didn’t have any detailed engineering plans for a recent study of the courthouse’s exact space needs — the last was done by Heery in 2014 — Neal and O’Quinn felt the commission could get a better idea of the price if it adhered to their plan.
By doing so, it could avoid underestimating the cost as the county had done for some items on the SPLOST 2016 projects list.
They suggested the commission put a two-year SPLOST on the ballot in May, using it to pay for a new space needs study on the courthouse, detailed blueprints for expansion and some short-term security upgrades to the building.
A two-year SPLOST would amount to about $40.1 million, according to O’Quinn. Of that, $3 million would go towards the aforementioned courthouse work, while the rest would go towards the most high-priority infrastructure projects.
The city of Brunswick, Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission and Jekyll Island Authority also get a cut in the plan.
With the detailed information in hand, the county would have a better idea of how much the courthouse expansion would cost, and with that would put it on a five-year SPLOST 2022 list.
When asked by Neal, Kleppin said cost estimates tend to be much more accurate to actual costs when more due diligence is done before putting a project out to bid.
The project would still get underway in the 2023 timeframe, Neal said.
Four of their fellow commissioners weren’t quite on board with the plan, however.
Chairman Mike Browning said the county wouldn’t likely get a better estimate after the two years than it would going by Heery’s $21.6 million estimate.
While he saw some wisdom in the seven-year plan, commissioner Bill Brunson said you don’t know what a project will cost until contractors bid on it.
Even with detailed plans in hand, he said contractors have charged very different rates than the county was expecting for some construction projects.
On the accountability point, commissioner Allen Booker said he didn’t see why the county should fear the public not voting for SPLOST.
Everyone in his district —District 5, which is comprised of the city of Brunswick and the Arco neighborhood — is all on-board and want to see a new SPLOST.
Neal said he regularly hears from people who are displeased with the county’s “vertical” projects, or new construction projects and not renovation or maintenance, in SPLOST 2016.
O’Quinn backed him up, pointing out that a plan for a proposed new animal control shelter came in well over-budget, and there has been talk of abandoning plans for a new shelter in favor of improving the current one on U.S. Highway 17.
He also noted that the under construction veterans memorial park came in over-budget as well and that many citizens on St. Simons Island were upset with a SPLOST-funded roundabout just built at the intersection of East Beach Causeway and Ocean Boulevard.
Booker asked county manager Alan Ours if SPLOST 2016 projects were going that poorly.
Ours responded by saying that, from the employees’ perspective, the projects are going very well.
There have been a few snags, he said, such as the animal control shelter and some issued with right-of-way acquisition or permitting for some infrastructure projects, but overall the county is completing projects at a good pace.
The tax collection for SPLOST 2016 is also going well. Growth in the economy could mean the county collects the target $72.5 million by June 2020 and can stop collecting it early.
Despite that, there’s a lot of negativity surrounding SPLOST among the general public, Neal said.
Commissioner Peter Murphy said it seemed “self-centered” for those who have issues with a few projects to vote to withhold SPLOST money from areas and people that need it, like the city of Brunswick.
If the public won’t vote to approve a five-year SPLOST now, he didn’t see any reason it would do so in two years.
Ultimately, the commissioners agreed to hold a vote at their Thursday meeting on whether or not to go with a five-year SPLOST 2020 as planned or follow Neal and O’Quinn’s seven-year strategy.
In other business, the commission heard a request from the city of Brunswick to extend an agreement over the Oglethorpe Block in downtown Brunswick.
The city and county signed an agreement in years past that transferred ownership to the city for free and gave the city until April 2019 to “substantially complete” a conference center planned for the block, located near the intersection of Bay and Newcastle streets. If it didn’t do so, the county could force the city to pay the fair value for the property.
Last year, the county declined to extend the April 2019 deadline, and neither side has publicly spoken about or acted on the agreement since.
City manager Jim Drumm asked the commission to consider extending the deadline again, to April 2023.
He said the city has all but inked a deal with a hotel developer in Jacksonville to partner with it on the project.
A hotel and conference center could be a real asset, and both will be much more likely to succeed with the other than alone.
Commissioners said they would consider it at a future meeting, and asked county attorney Aaron Mumford to draft a new agreement.
Commissioners also heard an update on an ongoing zoning ordinance overhaul from Caleb Racicot, a consultant with planning and architecture consultation firm TSW.
The commission’s next work session is scheduled for Dec. 17. The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Old Glynn County Courthouse, 701 G St. in Brunswick.