Valdosta Daily Times

September 25, 2013

No mill? No move

Remerton holding SPLOST funds in reserve for city offices

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

REMERTON — What happens to SPLOST dollars if the project voters approved can no longer be accomplished? In response to inquiries from citizens regarding past special purpose local option sales tax expenditures, Remerton City Manager Mike Terrell and City Clerk Mary Sayers addressed the questions with The Times.

The inquiries have centered around SPLOST VI, which passed in 2007. Counties and cities have to specify the project and the amount of money that will be spent on it in the referendum that voters approve. In Remerton’s case, the SPLOST VI referendum stated that the city would use a portion of its proceeds on “construction of and relocation of municipal offices inside the Remerton Mill building,” and the purchase of public-safety equipment and facilities, in addition to other items.

Since that time, the owners of the Remerton Mill decided it was less expensive to demolish the building than to restore it. The demolition is underway, leaving the city without the specified building for relocation.

“The city was supposed to receive $2,000,150 from the SPLOST, with $880,000 on that specific line item for the relocation of offices,” said Terrell, who also serves as the city’s police chief.

 “SPLOST collections have come in much lower than the estimate, so to date, we’ve received $600,000 for that expenditure, and it’s still in the account,” he said, other than a small portion, $15,000, which was used for fire-safety equipment.

The amount was verified in the compliance audit required by the state which governs SPLOST expenditures.

Sayers said the city receives about $15,000 to $20,000 per month from SPLOST VI, and collections will end Dec. 31, 2013. The amount is divided between the four line items from the referendum: roads, streets, bridges and drainage; improvements to water and sewer facilities; city park property acquisition/ equipment; and the municipal offices/ public-safety facility and equipment.

As moving the offices to the Remerton Mill is no longer an option, the city has to keep the SPLOST dollars collected for the move and follow strict state

guidelines regarding projects which are deemed “no longer feasible.”

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated, section 48-8-123, states, “If a project that has become infeasible is a municipal project, an ordinance or resolution of the municipality responsible for the project shall be required determining that the project has become infeasible,” at which time, the county would be notified, as well as the election board.

Once the Remerton City Council passes such an ordinance or resolution regarding the project’s infeasibility, the Georgia Code allows the municipality to “reduce any general obligation indebtedness,” or “paying such proceeds into the general fund ... to be used for the purpose of reducing ad valorem taxes, or both.”

The issue must then face a vote by city residents in a referendum election.

“Ideally, we would like to still use those funds to either add on or relocate our existing offices,” said Terrell. “As you can see, we are clearly out of space!”

The small City Hall building houses the clerk, the judge, the city council, the Lowndes County coroner, zoning, and must include records storage as the official courthouse.

“Next door at the police department, we have to store two of the fire trucks, and our fire station is located with our public works department down the road,” said Terrell. “When they start the trucks, the fumes clear out the police station.”

Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson said overall, collections from SPLOST VI were supposed to be $180 million, but will come in closer to $150 million, which reduced the amount the county and municipalities received.