It’s no secret that Rome leaders want a new special-purpose, local-option sales-tax referendum (SPLOST) and that the county, where all such things must be born, has zero interest in it. That’s odd in that it is about the only thing that could rescue the county government from beneath the pile of deferred obligations it has created. Indeed, if it waits too terribly much longer its only other course would be raising property taxes by a scary amount.
It’s apparent that some of the commissioners believe this would be voted down, as in the last attempt this past March. They want to avoid upsetting constituents when four of the five were just put into office? Frankly, that SPLOST was explained miserably in part because some key political leaders stayed silent … or joined in opposition whispering.
Let’s put such a notion in perspective. A SPLOST is about the only way out that is left regarding a lot of problems and pending, high-value community desires. It has a proven record of success, and the electorate pretty much knows the ones of years past are largely responsible for most of this community’s progress.
Still, any such proposal would now have to be the largest this community has ever seen because, after the long years of retreating into a protective stance due to the national economic woes, a huge heap of deferred or ignored necessities must be put on the list.
THAT MEANS the defeated $34 million that was to go heavily to replacing worn-out rolling equipment (police cars, graders and so forth) for the county, Rome and Cave Spring must form the starting place. That growing need for basic, routine capital investment is the worst of the current budgetary problems. Lost personnel, services, functions cannot be restored until that is solved. At the current pace, the county alone will be about $15 million “behind” on this sort of spending by the end of 2014.
It is entirely realistic to plan for a 6-year, $100 million SPLOST. For one thing, as most Greater Romans understand, this is not the dreaded “new tax” that some political prophets fear nor even a “more tax.” It is exactly the same tax as currently is being paid, and that pretty much has been routinely paid for almost 20 continuous years. It is a continuation, that’s all. Indeed, failing to have agreed to keep continuing it this past March probably did much to make financial “trouble” turn into “crisis.”
Now, six years may not hit $100 million. That assumes an economic recovery plus strong growth for Greater Rome. That’s why any project list has to be divided into priority tiers. Digging the local governments out of their stall-and-delay messes comes first.
At minimum, at the current tax collection pace, it would bring in $75 million. At a recovered clip, $90 million. At a growth pace, $100 million. Thus the desirable should be first and guaranteed while the can-be-put-off stuff comes last on the work list made known to voters.
WHAT GOES where would, of course, depend on the selection made by the citizens committee to shape this that should have been formed the day before yesterday. The County Commission, of course, can also make adjustments — so long as it doesn’t shift money from one thing to another or one place to another after the referendum is approved. (Yeah, direct reminder of some best-forgotten problems when the first big SPLOST was implemented.)
There is no shortage of possible elements to include. For example, in no particular order but all having known advocate groups in the community:
1. The last $7.5 million or so to get the Tennis Center of Georgia accomplished.
2. Whatever it might take to turn the donated General Electric property into the big park and ballfield complex that West Rome has long needed to match East Rome’s Ridge Ferry Park.
3. Whatever “local share” money that would be necessary to make the state expedite the Ga. 140 and Ga. 101 four-laning projects, just as was done years ago to get the East Rome Bypass.
4. Since local government has proven it can build roads and bridges as well as the state can (Armuchee Connector) funding to extend that connector all the way to Ga. 53.
5. This would open up a huge chunk of mostly empty land that with added funds would given the economic development folks their long desired 1,000-acre major industrial site … and maybe some spec buildings on their smaller holdings elsewhere.
6. Enough “seed money” to assure that restoration of the old log cabin in Cave Spring, the expansion of Chieftains Museum and similar potential tourist attractions are sure things no matter how long it takes to reach full funding.
7. There would be no end to possible smaller lifestyle improvements — fast-forward on the trail system, take it to the Silver Comet, swimming pools other than the one public facility existing, senior centers in other parts of the overall community and so forth.
And, in all that is proposed, both analyze and know what continuing costs not covered by the SPLOST itself would be required and determine not only who would pay for such but how this would be done. Of course, putting a Rome-Floyd consolidation question on the same ballot would help greatly with this. It is even possible that, should a decent pace of growth be restored, that increased revenues from property values and sales would handle much of this.
IT’S A NEW year and time to start thinking positively again and, more importantly, to stop sitting still and contemplating why “the world” has not treated Greater Rome as kindly in recent years as in the past.
First, it wasn’t “our” fault. Second, crying in your beer just makes it taste salty.
And third, those visiting and even those already living here often find it hard to believe that Greater Rome, so far off “the beaten path,” has already accomplished so much largely on its own. Amazing places can do amazing things if they have amazing people.
This is the third in a three-part editorial series.