More on today’s column about Savannah’s sales taxes and infrastructure projects

In my City Talk column today — “Leaks, mold and questions about infrastructure spending” — I recap some of the key details regarding the current 2008-2014 round of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), a 1% sales tax for capital improvement projects that Chatham County voters approved by pretty wide margins in 2006. The revenues of course are being disbursed to municipalities based on a variety of factors.

Chatham County was guaranteed full funding for its big initiative — the new jail (at a very high cost per bed, btw, but maybe more on that another time).

The city of Savannah was slated to receive $160 million in funding, but that was cut to $122 million because of the economic slowdown. (We won’t know till 2014 exactly how much the tax raises, but the current estimate seems about right to me.)

In my column today, I call that “a bad deal” for the city. It was and it is. Sales tax revenue fell, but it didn’t fall by that much — almost 1/4th. But since the jail was guaranteed full funding, that’s how the math worked out.

Here’s the list of projects with the original budgeted amount in the 2006 vote and after the slash mark the current allocation in 2011 city budget. I’ve had to move a few of the items around since some of the terms have changed, as has the scope of some of the projects.

City of Savannah total allocation: $160 million / $122 million

Projects with increased funding in 2011 compared to 2006 vote:

  • Cultural arts center: $13.4 million / $17.4 million
  • Drainage: $11 million / $17.3 million
  • Urban redevelopment plans: $6 million / $10.4 million
  • Central fire station: $1.75 million / Fire Station & Training Facility: $4.5 million
  • Police precincts ($5.6 million) and Central police precinct ($1.75 million) = $7.35 million / $8.6 million
  • Upgrade Bacon Park tennis facility: $1 million / Total for Public recreation, Coffee Bluff Marina & Bacon Park tennis facility: $5.8 million

Projects with decreased funding in 2011 compared to 2006 vote:

  • Arena and public safety headquarters: $80 million / Arena: $21.8 million, PSH: $10.5 million (note, when broken out on a separate budget line, PSH funding is stable)
  • Corridor improvements ($9.5 million) & Improve priority corridors ($3 million) = $12.5 million / $6 million ($0 for Westside Downtown Savannah Corridor)
  • Grayson Stadium upgrades: $5 million / $3 million
  • Upgrade street lighting: $2.5 million / $1 million
  • Water park: $2 million / $0
  • Public safety training facility: $3 million / $1.25 million

Projects with the same funding in 2011 compared to 2006 vote:

  • Museum at Battlefield Park: $6.5 million / $6.5 million
  • Infrastructure for Fellwood Homes site: $4.5 million / $4.5 million
  • Police mobile technology: $1.5 million / $1.5 million
  • Daffin Park renovations: $1 million / $1 million
  • Traffic signal upgrades: $1 million / $1 million
I’ll have more to say about police funding in my upcoming City Talk column in the Savannah Morning News, but let me here make a few other comments regarding this list:
  • Many of the original allocations were known to be insufficient to complete the projects; general fund or other monies would have been tapped, but those funds of course dried up in the recession as well.
  • The arena was listed at less than $80 million originally, with the expectation that it would really cost about $95 million.
  • While there was much discussion about the boost in funding for the Cultural Arts Center, keep in mind that the original allocation was probably not expected to cover the full cost. And the plans for the center look great — although there is still no site secured. I last wrote about that issue here.
  • A new arena in Evansville, Ind., which is very similar in scale to what was imagined here had a total budget of $127.5 million. That figure is higher than the entire allocation that the city of Savannah is getting from the current SPLOST. Evansville used bonds to raise the money — although that will cost the city over $100 million in interest in future years, the lease rates seem to work out.
  • As I note in today’s column, it’s too bad the city did not find a way to move ahead more quickly on the big ticket items that are being funded.
  • But it’s impossible to move ahead on these infrastructure projects until a) sites are secured and b) the money is available.
  • The city has had the site, however, for the new fire station at 32nd and Bull for years. There was a groundbreaking last December, but so far nothing of substance has been done in terms of construction.
  • If we had moved more quickly to get these projects rolling, especially on key corridors, we could have softened some of the recession’s blows for the construction trades and for marginal areas. Oh well.