|HENRY COUNTY, GA – January 7, 2020-- The Henry County Board of Commissioners engaged in a spirited discussion today on reallocating $5 million from the SPLOST IV Bethlehem Interchange project to other roads projects, but the resolution did not pass in a 3-3 vote, with District II Commissioner Dee Clemmons, District IV Commissioner Vivian Thomas and District V Commissioner Bruce Holmes in favor of moving the funds, and District I Commissioner Johnny Wilson, District III Commissioner Gary Barham and Commission Chair Carlotta Harrell in opposition.|
In 2013, voters approved the SPLOST IV project list which included an allocation of 5.5 million toward an interchange in the area of Bethlehem Rd. The project has not started and SPLOST Transportation Director Roque Romero, who presented the item, said that the project is expected to cost approximately $40 million
Romero added that he is scheduled to meet with the Georgia Department of Transportation representatives next week to discuss funding, engineering and a project timeline. The Bethlehem Rd. Interchange project is a GDOT project and 5.5 million was allocated as the county’s portion of a 20 percent match for the approved SPLOST IV project.
Holmes said his concern about putting funding toward the project would result in an inland port and that he has several roads in District 5 that need repair and improvements. He said he favors giving district commissioners autonomy in deciding on how funds would be best spent.
Barham said when the SPLOST funds were approved, it was for Henry County to have “skin in the game” to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 155.
Commissioners weighed in on thoughts and implications about reallocating funds from approved SPLOST projects, and county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter explained how funds could be reallocated.
Jaugstetter clarified that funds may be reallocated, but once approved, SPLOST projects must still be completed and funds can come from a variety of sources, however, funds to complete a SPLOST IV project may not come from SLPOST V unless the project is also on the SPLOST V list.
Chair Harrell looked for clarification on the status of other SPLOST IV projects and what funding was available for unfinished projects.
Wilson, who opposed moving the funds, suggested that the Board table the item until staff had an opportunity to meet with GDOT representatives.
“We can then find out their recommendations and have a clearer understanding from them,” said Wilson.
Clemmons maintained that the resolution was not calling to abandon the interchange project, but rather to move funds to be used for shovel ready projects.
“We are not trying to abandon this project, and I don’t want to convolute this resolution. This project was approved by the voters and would have to go back before the voter, we would still fund the interchange project once GDOT comes up with the other $40 million.”
County manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews explained that the $5.5 million was allocated because the BOC at that time wanted the project to be a priority with GDOT.
Jaugstetter said that today’s debate raises one of the problematic things about SPLOST, saying that the timetable in the way SPLOST project lists are approved, current commissioners are saddled with policies and priorities from previous boards.
Harrell asked for further clarification on the specific projects that funds would be reallocated to and before moving those funds, said she would like to see a specific project list, however no list was available at the time.
Thomas asked county management on the feasibility of a line item to replenish funds that are reallocated.
“We should make good use of this money. It’s been sitting too long,” said Thomas.
Harrell asked the county manager to clarify what happens when projects remain unfinished or how unused funds are utilized.
“Several months ago, we started cleaning up our SPLOST 4 project list,” said Hobson-Matthews.
She went on to detail several projects that still needed funding, the difference between county-wide and district specific projects, and tier one and tier two project lists. She explained that if the funds are reallocated, the county would still have to provide the $5 million to put towards the project because it has already been approved by voters.
Romero is expected to brief leadership on his meeting with GDOT later this month.