Robin Chasman has been studying how McDuffie County and Thomson spend money for nearly a year now. The consultant with the Athens-based engineering firm Chasman and Associates was tapped to conduct a capital needs analysis during last January's joint city/county retreat.
Earlier this month, he presented the initial findings from his study to the group of local leaders gathered in Athens. His main goal was to get them to come up with a comprehensive plan on how all the money from the most recent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will be spent.
And according to conservative projections given during the meeting, that figure could be $1.15 million higher than the $15.75 million officials expected.
"If the economy continues to grow, then their SPLOST is going to be higher every year," Mr. Chasman said.
Spending the extra money wasn't the problem. Deciding which projects got the money was. Thomson Mayor Bob Knox presented a plan during the retreat that was met with approval from both governments.
He suggested $100,000 be spent on breathing apparatuses for emergency services, $225,000 for roads, $225,000 for economic development in downtown Thomson and $600,000 to upgrade software and information technology connectivity between agencies.
"If that overage came in, I don't have any problem whatsoever on what he recommended as for a way to spend it," said County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton. "It certainly would be a good way to be able to do those things that we need to do."
Mr. Chasman agreed that the spending plan for the expected excess was a good way to prioritize. He even went back to the drawing board on his study to incorporate the plan given at the retreat.
"I think it's going to work out," he said, adding that he and officials don't expect to close in on the $19 million maximum that can be collected. But just in case, the plan will be tweaked to spend any more extra revenue on needy projects.
According to Mr. Chasman's study, Thomson and McDuffie County officials don't totally agree on the top reason's to spend money, but they do agree on the best source of revenue.
The county said its No. 1 reason to spend money is to promote growth. Thomson said addressing mandates is its top reason. Both, however, said SPLOST was the best source of income.
That is why the projects Mayor Knox suggested funding with the extra SPLOST revenue are so expensive. Chairman Newton said spending that much from property taxes or bonds could leave a bad taste in the community's mouth.
"(SPLOST) is certainly the most palatable," he said. "When you use that sales tax money we all get to help a little bit."
In the overall capital needs study, SPLOST spending is only a piece. Mr. Chasman is still in the process of finalizing his recommendation for the rest of the big-ticket spending plan.
"What we're trying to do is to come up with a capital improvements plan that gives them a way to logically plan and spend capital, such as on vehicles," Mr. Chasman said.