Thursday, October 23, 2014

Core Infrastructure SPLOST will be put to a vote on Tuesday’s ballot


By Pat Cooper

Fayette County voters are down to the wire when it comes to deciding if they want to participate in the proposed Core Infrastructure Special Local Option Sales Tax.
“Shall a special one percent sales and use tax be imposed in the special district of Fayette County for a period of time not to exceed two years and for the raising of an estimated amount of $41,245,988 for the purpose of financing the following capital outlay projects for the purpose of financing the following capital outlay projects for the use and benefit of Fayette County and qualified municipalities within Fayette County:
(a) Capital outlay projects consisting of road, street, and bridge purposes, which purposes may include sidewalks, bicycle paths, and multi-use paths;
(b) Capital outlay projects pertaining to library renovation/expansion;
(c) Capital outlay projects consisting of recreational facilities;
(d) Water capital outlay projects, sewer capital outlay projects and stormwater capital outlay projects; and
(e) Capital outlay projects consisting of public safety facilities.”
Simple enough to read, but the referendum is one of the most controversial Fayette County residents have had to deal with in recent years. This will be the first ever two-year SPLOST undertaking in Fayette County. Historically, past SPLOSTs have been 10-years in duration.
Fayette County has reached the point where the early stormwater structures installed throughout the unincorporated county are decades old and now need replacement. There were no funds set aside reliably over time to cover the costs of replacing deteriorating infrastructure.
The concept of the SPLOST developed during a series of town hall meetings held when residents in the unincorporated county received bills from a Stormwater Utility they didn’t know the county had.
During a series of heated discussions, county commission chairman Steve Brown explained that the county was looking at some $15 million or more in repairs to the county’s antiquated infrastructure, as a result of crumbling pipes, severely stressed dams and blocked drainage ditches that flooded roads and homes.
Everyone in county leadership agreed the funding need for stormwater projects is substantial and increasingly urgent. As the county grew in the 70s and 80s, significant road and pipe infrastructure was put down. The piping, mostly made of corrugated steel, has a life span of about 25 years -- meaning an increasing percentage of it needs repair or complete replacement, which is expensive.
In the past weeks, the county released a 181-project list (which can still be reviewed on the county website and hard copies can be found at local libraries) and the estimated costs on those projects to give voters a better idea of the situation the county is looking at over the long haul. The county hired an outside consultant, Jacobs Engineering, an engineering firm specializing in stormwater construction design, to review some 40 large projects the SPLOST would provide funds for. Category I and II projects include design costs using environmental, hydrologic and hydraulic analyses appropriate for culvert repairs, replacements and upgrades to prohibit negative impacts to upstream and downstream properties.
A project was included on the list if it met one or more of the following criteria:
• The pipe is in poor condition and requires replacement in the near future to avoid damage to county infrastructure;
• The pipe is undersized and contributes to localized flooding issues;
• The pipe is too short and presents a safety issue to vehicles in terms of a steep drop-off;
• The pipe is corrugated metal pipe, under a collector or arterial and on a stream and is exhibiting signs of exterior and/or structural deterioration; and/or,
• The pipe is in “fair” condition today but structural deterioration has been documented.
Category I projects are the top priority where construction needs to start immediately to prevent the possible loss of life or property. Projects in this category include Category II, Tier I projects are the second priority where the repair need is “immediate” due to significant deterioration impairing its ability to function. These projects will be implemented within two years. Category II Tier 2 and Category III projects are projects planned to be implemented within the next three to five years.
Longview Dam (AKA Margaret Phillips Lake Dam) is a Category I structure within the right-of- way of Longview Road. This project brings the dam into compliance with the state’s Safe Dams Program’ Category I standards.
Repairing the dam is contingent upon the upstream lake being deeded to Fayette County for use as a passive park and/or environmentally protected area. The cost for repairs is estimated at some $1.4 million. The project consists of performing the necessary evaluation, design, permitting and construction to bring the structure into compliance with the Georgia Safe Dams Act of 1978. thera are two options for this project: Either upgrade the dam or breach it. The cost estimate is based on the preferred method of upgrading the dam.
Kozisek Dam is a Category I structure with some of its components dependent upon or integral with Neely Road. Fayette County is in on-going negotiations with the property owner and the Safe Dams Program to absolve Fayette County of all ownership and maintenance responsibility of the structure. The cost estimate in the Project List- some $250,000- reflects the county’s pro-rated share associated with dam removal and road reconstruction. Fayette County is responsible to safely pass the flows associated with the perennial stream under the road, and the cost to do so is reflected in the estimate.
The Emerald Lake Dam is within county right-of-way and the county accepted ownership and maintenance responsibility for this structure in 1998 and this project brings the dam into compliance with the state’s Safe Dams Program’ Category I standards.
The plus side is that residents won’t receive a stormwater utility bill during the time frame of the SPLOST; however, once repairs are made, residents will see those bills again. The funds will be put into a dedicate account for maintenance and repair of the county’s stormwater infrastructure.
A smaller referendum regarding the Sunday sales of ‘distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages by the drink for on-premises consumption’ will also be appearing on the ballot. Though the Sunday sales of alcohol was passed by a wide margin, the referendum question did not include the ‘on premises consumption’ codicil. County authorities are trying to correct the problem so restaurants can sell drinks on Sunday.


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