SPLOST funds near cap

By Justin Boron

The amount of money obligated to transportation projects funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is approaching the yearly cap that the county estimates it will collect from the program in its first year.

With six months remaining in the fiscal year, the county has obligated about $33 million of the $38 million it expects to collect as part of the SPLOST tax, said Suzanne Brown, the county public information officer.

The county cannot obligate more money than it will take in, she said

But Brown said the situation isn't cause for alarm, adding the county will continue to monitor its expenditure for transportation projects in the coming months.

"Certainly, as we go forward, we will . . . not spend money that's not there," Brown said.

She also said most of what has been obligated for construction is either complete or under way.

Terry Legvold, a county consultant for the management of the SPLOST program, also said the $38 million estimate is a conservative one, opening up the possibility of a surplus once all the collections have been made for the year.

A large chunk of the funds - about $16 million - was allocated for resurfacing projects in the four county commission districts.

Each project cost about $3-4 million, Legvold said.

Although some of the streets suggested for resurfacing have been delayed until storm water drainage systems can be added, most of them have been paved, Brown said.

September and October were heavy months for SPLOST project approval.

But as the county administration exchanged hands in the past three months, the approval of SPLOST projects has seen a stall.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph said the lull was not a sign of any change in how the program is being administered.

Instead, Ralph said a reason for drag in project approval might be the complexity of coordinating several major projects at the same time.

"When you start adding projects it threatens your ability to do current projects," he said.

The county, Ralph said, will be directing its efforts toward projects it already has encumbered before approving any other major ones.

Brown also said part of the deceleration is due to the winter weather because little paving is done during the cold months.

Wayne Patterson, director of transportation and development, had said in November the pace of paving would likely slow because lower temperatures cause asphalt to harden too quickly.