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SPLOST should not be confused with Christmas

When you ask ordinary citizens, not elected officials, why they pay taxes they will primarily tell you three things — infrastructure, public safety and education.

When you ask elected and appointed officials about the best use of SPLOST dollars it seems like they are more inclined to talk about three other things — buildings, buildings and more buildings.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a billion dollars over a five- or six-year period is a lot of money.

As the Clayton County SPLOST citizens committee looks at how that much money could be spent, it is admittedly difficult not to get rather grandiose.

However, whether it is the citizens committee or the county commission when it meets to whittle down and ratify the list, it should be remembered that every penny of SPLOST is taxpayer money.

SPLOST funds should not be treated as some unexpected windfall and the project list should not look like a Christmas wish list.

Looking over the projects that have been bandied about, there are several public safety improvements, some roads projects, public transportation and other infrastructure improvements that could help incubate economic development, but an inordinate share of the preliminary list is in buildings, buildings and more buildings.

Discussions have included a proposal for a $35 million civic center, a $36.3 million county administration center, $16.5 million for new libraries, $10.5 million for a transportation and development building, $7.5 million for a resource center, $6 million for a power department building, $5.2 million for an elections and registration building, $3.8 million for a municipal complex, $800,000 for a special events center, $200,000 for an indoor shooting range and $300,000 for a county television studio.

If a five-year SPLOST is approved, it is expected to bring in $226.6 million. If a six-year SPLOST is approve it is expected to bring in $272.3 million.

Under the plan, the county would get 78.7 percent of the revenue with the rest of the allocation being 7.12 percent for Forest Park, 5.83 percent for Riverdale, 2.48 percent each for Lovejoy and Morrow, 1.82 percent for Jonesboro, 1.01 percent for Lake City and 0.49 percent for College Park.

While the wish list for the cities seems to be a bit more practical than the county list, there still seems to be a lot of pork.

There are several other projects in the areas of technology, vehicles and transportation. The county is requesting $12 million for equipment, such as buses, to operate a transit system while Morrow is seeking $25,000 for its own transit system.

Non-public building requests include:

• $69 million request for road widening,

• $46 million request from College Park for a commuter rail line connecting it to Lovejoy,

• $35 million for sidewalks in unincorporated areas of the county,

• $1.7 million for sidewalks in Jonesboro,

• $1.2 million to put sidewalks along 25 percent of Riverdale’s streets,

• $1 million for Jonesboro’s Streetscape Phase III,

• $400,000 for “Welcome to Clayton County” signs.

There are numerous public safety vehicle requests for virtually every city as well as the county.

While the county cannot be operated like a business, it should operate in a business-like and business-savvy manner.

As commissioners look at the SPLOST proposals they should ask themselves, “What is the return on investment?”

When it comes to spending public funds, there may not always be an ROI, but elected officials must remember they are not spending their own money. Whether it is property tax or sales tax, it is all taxpayer money and much more of this money comes out of the pockets of hard working men and women than it does tourists or visitors to Clayton County.

It would be wise to break down these SPLOST wish lists into (1) needs, (2) investments and (3) wants.

Priority should be given to real and immediate needs, then elected officials should look at investments in economic development and last and certainly least they could look at “wants.”

The SPLOST citizens review committee is expected to whittle down the project list to be submitted to commissioners for approval at a 5 p.m. meeting on Dec. 9 at the commissioners building, 112 Smith St., Jonesboro.

Then it will go to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners for ratification, possibly at its Dec. 17 meeting.

These meetings are open, public meetings.

As both the committee and the commission make final determinations, they should remember that citizens are far more likely to support the spending of their hard-earned pennies on needs than on wants.