Hood addressed concerned citizens during a town hall meeting held Thursday night. Hood said she had organized the meeting to hear what her constituents wanted to see in the 2010 budget and upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which will be voted on November 2011 and could go into effect April of 2012.
The current SPLOST ends in March 2012, but Hood said the county has already accomplished a lot of its goals, including building a new judicial complex that includes a new jail and sheriff’s office, along with a fire station in Resaca and the court house renovations which are near completion. The current SPLOST, even with the economic down turn, is still bringing in $700,000 monthly, County Administrator Randy Dowling noted in the meeting.
Hood said while she is aware that the county is facing tough economic times, the Board of Commissioners wants a clear understanding of what citizens want to see in a SPLOST.
“We have a good idea of what we want to put in (a SPLOST), but we want to be in line with citizens,” Hood said.
However, citizens present at the meeting made it clear that if they were to vote for a SPLOST they wanted to know exactly what they were voting for.
Sandy Cook of Ranger said that she was disappointed that the new recreational facility was built in Sonoraville, far from many people in the county.
“We need it to be more specific,” Cook said. “If you’re going to get me to vote for your SPLOST I want it to be specific.”
Many residents also wondered why more road projects, such as the Union Grove bypass, could not be completed. But Barry Hice, director of the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department pointed out that the county only receives $1.2 million annually from SPLOST for road and highway projects, and that much more is necessary to complete a project the size and magnitude of Union Grove.
“Roads are long-term capitol projects,” Hice said.
Hood said some projects for the upcoming SPLOST include a fire station on the east side of the county and replacement of the animal shelter.
But the biggest project would be a $10 million overhaul to the county’s emergency radio system. The current system is not large enough to support city and county fire and law enforcement, along with the needs of the hospital and emergency management departments, Dowling said.
The new system would allot for five towers place around the county, and would provide enough bandwidth to accommodate an 800 MHz system.
“In other parts of the state this technology has been available for 10 years, it is nothing new, nothing exotic,” Dowling said.
However, both Hood and Dowling acknowledged that not every desired project would qualify for SPLOST funding.
Hood said with a lean budget, there wouldn’t be room for new projects, and reductions made earlier this year will remain in effect.
“We will see continued employee budget cuts,” Hood said during the meeting.
Hood was referring to the temporary employee benefit reduction voted on by the Board of Commissioners in February.
As of March 1 employees longer received cost-of-living-allowances, longevity pay and holiday pay for the 10 county holidays, including $30 in Christmas pay. Also, employees will no longer receive the deferred compensation retirement match of 5 percent.
Hood said these cuts will continue in the upcoming budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
The cuts, she said, make up for $1.3 million in budgetary shortfalls, and it equals to one mill of taxes. However, the board is still facing a $1.5 million budgetary shortfall.
However, she said she wanted to avoid cutting funding to the county fire and sheriff’s departments because public safety is a high priority.
“I am all about public safety, if we cannot keep you safe first, then everything else needs to go by the wayside,” Hood said.
The BOC will receive a preliminary budget for review on May 4.