Now that voters have agreed to extend the local 1-cent sales tax for another five years, county officials are wasting no time in getting started on new projects.
In Tuesday's primary elections, Columbia County voters approved the special purpose local option sales tax collection 15,870 to 7,203, allowing the county to receive up to $100 million between 2006-2010 as well as issue bonds for as much as $22.8 million to begin projects instead of waiting until the collections come in.
"We will go to the bond market, trying to get a bond rating in September and receive the funds probably by November," County Administrator Steve Szablewski said.
While the exact bond amount the county will seek has not been set, Szablewski said it will probably be about $20 million.
The bonds will come with interest, but county officials, who tacked the option onto their SPLOST ballot for the first time this year, said that extra amount would be offset by the rising cost of construction they would have to pay if projects were started further down the road.
The SPLOST received the highest precinct support from voters at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, where 77.9 percent of the 448 votes were in favor of the tax's extension.
Though it was still a majority, the Eubank Blanchard Community Center was the lowest-supporting precinct for the sales tax. About 59.7 percent of the 390 voters approved the extension.
Szablewski said some of the first projects to benefit from the money will be buying fire equipment to replace outdated trucks as well as for new, proposed stations in the county.
One of those stations is slated to be built near the Eubank Blanchard center to serve as a headquarters for North Columbia Fire and Rescue.
"Another very hot priority project is Blanchard Woods Park," Szablewski said.
Money for design work and land purchase at the 150-acre park already has been set, and the newly approved funds will allow for the building of soccer parks, walking trails and other recreational facilities at the site off Blanchard Road.
Other projects that are now expected to be funded are:
Transportation improvements, which are expected to receive 31 percent of the sales-tax collections, will include match state and federally funded roadwork, county road improvements, paving dirt roads and resurfacing existing roads.
About $1.5 million is budgeted to build a new emergency operations center four the county's emergency services division near the Evans government complex. The new center will share the building with a Columbia County Sheriff's Office substation.
The cities of Harlem and Grovetown will see about 15 percent of the funds, with much of the money going to water and sewer projects.
The county will also continue improvements at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, Animal Care and Control and other county buildings.
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