Officials will begin holding public meetings this week seeking feedback on a list of projects proposed to be funded by penny sales tax revenues beginning in 2017.
Columbia County officials already have a draft list of projects for the 2017-2022 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which will be on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.
County Administrator Scott Johnson said the list of projects is up for debate and subject to revision based on what comes out of the public meetings.
Some big ticket items included in the first tier of projects to be funded by the SPLOST are $19.2 million for a county justice center garage and renovation, $7.6 million for a sheriff’s administration building, $3.4 million for a new Harlem library, and $9 million for a new county cultural arts center and museum.
The list also includes $30 million in sales tax funds earmarked for a “sole community hospital provider” – money to be made available for use should the state approve one of three area hospitals that have submitted “Certificate of Need” applications to build the county’s first hospital.
Johnson said all three hospitals – University, Doctors and Georgia Regents Health – requested a letter of support from the county and a commitment that the county would be willing to contribute 20 percent in matching funds to new hospital construction, should it be necessary.
So far, University is the only hospital that has said it expects to need those matching funds for its application, although hospital officials have said they were willing to offset that by paying an advance on property taxes, should their project meet state approval.
“We wanted to make sure those funds were there if needed,” Johnson said.
In the case they are not needed, the county has a $30 million list on contingency projects that could be funded instead, most of which is dedicated to building and improving parks and recreation facilities throughout the county.
In addition to county-wide projects, the SLPOST plan designates about $8.4 million for Grovetown and $2.5 million for Harlem to use on municipal projects. The municipal distributions were approved at Tuesday’s county commission meeting after a series of intergovernment negotiations, officials said. Johnson said he is hopeful residents will show some interest in the projects and let officials know what they want before the final list is approved.
“I genuinely want public input,” he said of the upcoming listening sessions. “We are going to go and listen to what citizens want and modify the list accordingly.”