By Tia Lynn Ivey
The County Commissioners held their annual strategic planning retreat last week at Farmview Markets, targeting specific areas to focus on as long term goals, including possibly putting up a new sales tax up for referendum, bringing broadband to the county, and exploring a permanent water source.
County Manager Adam Mestres presented a second sales tax referendum to put on the ballot called TSPLOST in addition to the next SPLOST, which expires in March 2019. According to Mestres, TSPLOST is “a use-tax tied to how much money you spend in the stores…the benefit of it, potentially, is that it could free up to $1.4 million dollars that we curently expend in our budget for roads and bridges…it would give us the ability to leverage up to one additional penny for the purpose of all things related to transportation, such as roads, salaries, equipment, and paving.”
Mestres also noted that if TSPLOST were to pass along with the next SPLOST, that possibly property taxes could be rolled back further.
“It is another tax, but it’s based on usage and not on how much your house costs,” said Mestres. Mestres also noted that 60 percent of TSPLOST revenues could come from out-of-county consumers.
Commissioner Ron Milton was worried about how county residents would respond to the proposal.
“I think it’s going to be a hard sale,” said Milton.
While Morgan County has traditionally supported SPLOST, commissioners worried that adding another sales tax on the ballot within the same year could jepordize support for the next SPLOST, which will be voted on May 22, 2018.
“We have to put SPLOST on the ballot first,” said Andy Ainslie, commissioner. According to county staff, if SPLOST doesn’t pass, it could add up to two mills to the county’s millage rate.
If the county decides to proceed with placing TSPLOST on a ballot, there are three dates to choose from: March 20, 2018, May 22, 2018, or November 6, 2018.
The commissioners will deliberate further before deciding on whether or not to pursue TSPLOST.
Securing a permanent water source in the county has been on the commissioners’ agenda for the past few years, but according to a preliminary study by Precision Planning, changing water sources might not be necessary for the county for another 15 years.
Mestres presented the commissioners with the results of the study, which used the county’s growth rate to determine that the county’s current water source would be more than sufficient for the next 15 years.
Mestres noted that any move to change water sources would require at $10-$15 million investment on the county’s part.
Mestres also told the commissioners to stay tuned for information on the ongoing Service Deliver Strategy negotiations with the City of Madison.
“I’ll be prepared to give you a full briefing on it at the next meeting,” said Mestres, who noted some progress has been made with negotiations.
The Commissioners also addressed bringing better broadband access to the county, but lamented that the process is currently stalled until the county can secure radio frequencies before they can recruit a specific company to offer broadband service in the county.
“We have been chasing after this for 10 years,” said Commissioner Andy Ainslie.
The commissioners agreed that bringing broadband to the county would be an essential element to securing future growth in the county.