Murray County hopes to collect almost $30 million if a new SPLOST passes this year, and Chatsworth and Eton city representatives say they are not happy about their projected portion.

The current five-year SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) will expire Dec. 31 and is now expected to collect a little more than $18 million. County sole commissioner Jim Welch hopes to begin collecting a new SPLOST for six years beginning Jan. 1, 2007, if it is approved by county voters in a referendum expected for Sept. 19.

The biggest project on Welch’s list is expanding the jail, doubling the size to hold 240 inmates.

“We have to get some numbers back (to give an exact cost). We will never know until we bid it out, but an architect is saying $8-$10 million, so maybe a good figure would be $9 million,” Welch said.

Welch said he is being fair to the cities because he will not deduct the cost of the jail from the monies collected before allocating the funds to the cities. State law allows counties to use funds collected by a SPLOST for specific uses, then disburse the remainder to the cities. Those uses are a courthouse; administrative buildings for elected officials or constitutional officers; a county or regional jail, correctional institute, or detention facility; or a county health department facility.

“We could actually pay their percentage after deducting” the amount to pay for the jail, Welch said. “We could take that $10 million from the $30 million and divide the $20 million. I think we’re being fair by saying we aren’t going to do that. I didn’t come up with that formula. The state comes up with it and says what’s fair, and what’s fair based on population.”

Under a law that went into effect in 2004, SPLOST allocation to cities is now based primarily on population unless the cities reach an intergovernmental agreement.

Under the proposed SPLOST, Chatsworth would not actually receive a cut compared to the current SPLOST, but its anticipated amount is not as much as city officials had hoped.

Chatsworth, with a population of almost 4,000, would be allocated 10 percent (the county has approximately 40,000 residents), compared to 12.5 percent under the current SPLOST.

Chatsworth is expected to receive $2.3 million if the projected entire amount of the current SPLOST is collected, and would receive $3 million during the next SPLOST.

Chatsworth Mayor Jerry Sanford said the cut in the percentage would not affect which projects the city will be doing. Chatsworth officials plan to use the funds to repair and expand sewer and water services. But Sanford said the percentage cut “would definitely lower” the amount of SPLOST funds he hoped to allocate to the project.

Chatsworth Council member Gary Brock said the city and Chatsworth Water Works “are looking at (spending) in the millions to repair” the water and sewer systems.

Eton is receiving 2.5 percent of the current SPLOST. If all of the originally expected $18.6 million from current SPLOST is collected, Eton will receive a total of $466,562 over the five years.

Welch’s administrative assistant, Tommy Parker, said he expects a little more than $18 million, but not quite $18.6 million, to be collected by the end of the year.

Eton would receive 1 percent of the next SPLOST based on the city’s population of approximately 450. Eton would receive $300,000 if the new SPLOST passes and the entire $30 million is collected.

“You know we’re not for it, definitely not,” said Eton City Council member Joan Dooley. “We’re taking a big cut. You can see why we don’t want it that way.”

She said it’s not the SPLOST Eton officials are against, it is the amount of the SPLOST the city will receive.

Eton City Council member Billy Cantrell said he is afraid $300,000 will not cover the cost of all the city’s desired projects, including additional sewerage expansion and improvements to city roads and to the city park. Exact figures on those projects were not immediately available.

Other planned projects for the county are constructing football, soccer and baseball fields at the new recreational facility on Hyden-Tyler Road; an expansion at the senior center; and a “small expansion” at the library. SPLOST funds will also go to road repairs. No exact figures were available.

“This is, in my opinion, the fairest tax,” Welch said. “Otherwise you are looking at paying for these projects with property taxes.”

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