Carroll County’s population is growing rapidly, but not evenly. Census estimates projected Villa Rica’s population to have almost tripled between 2000 and 2006 to about 11,000 people, while projecting Whitesburg’s population to have slightly decreased during that time to 586 people.
That leaves the county playing catch-up in two areas: how it appropriates special purpose local option sales tax money, and how it divides services between cities.
SPLOST is based on percentages. Besides the county, the seven incorporated cities - Bowdon, Carrollton, Mt. Zion, Roopville, Temple, Villa Rica and Whitesburg - get a cut of the roughly $81 million raised from the 2003 SPLOST.
SPLOST percentages are largely based on the percentage a city’s population is of the entire county. But with rapid growth, a city’s population can quickly diverge from its SPLOST allocation. For example, Villa Rica gets 5.5 percent of the 2003 SPLOST, but as of 2006 it had 10.29 percent and rising of the county’s population.
“We’ve never gotten our fair share of SPLOST; never gotten our fair share of county resources since (Chairman) Jack Bell,” said Villa Rica Mayor J. Collins.
While SPLOST is largely based on population, the end result is a negotiation between the county commission chairman and the mayors. Collins said he thought Villa Rica’s concerns had taken a back seat to Carrollton’s in the past, and credited Chairman Bill Chappell for giving them “a fair seat.”
“(Carrollton’s) always dominated the county so to speak, but now we’re getting a lot of commercial and residential growth,” Collins said. “Villa Rica is not the little mill village it was 40 years ago.”
Carrollton, which receives 25.1 percent, or $20.3 million, of the 2003 SPLOST, had 20.4 percent of the county’s population in 2006 with a projected 21,878 people, up from 19,843 in 2000.
Carrollton Mayor Wayne Garner said he had largely delegated SPLOST negotiation duties to City Manager Casey Coleman, but said he would understand if Carrollton had to accept a smaller percentage of SPLOST because of its declining population proportion.
“Unfortunately, if that’s the way the numbers fall, that’s something you have to deal with,” he said. “They would have to do a lot of convincing to show me that, but if it happened it wouldn’t cause me any great concern.”
Whitesburg Mayor Amy Williford noted that even if a city’s percentage of the next SPLOST were to decrease, the amount of money it received would likely still be more than the 2003 SPLOST because the next SPLOST is projected to grow significantly.
The 2008 SPLOST is likely to take in somewhere between $100 million and $130 million if approved by voters, so even if Carrollton’s allocation were only 20.4 percent as per its 2006 population, Carrollton would still probably make about $23.5 million, or $3.2 million more than it made with a larger share of the 2003 SPLOST.
Chappell and the mayors usually take the lead on SPLOST negotiations, and return to their respective commission and councils for final approval once a tentative deal is reached.
Chappell was unavailable for comment as of press time, but Collins, Garner and Williford said they planned to meet with Chappell in the next week or two to begin hammering out the details. The SPLOST will be put to a vote in either September or November, meaning that the deal has to be ready by April or June, respectively.
Chappell, who is running for re-election, is also taking the lead on another set of negotiations: those for the Municipal Service Delivery Strategy.
Though perhaps less-publicized than SPLOST, the delivery strategy might be just as far-reaching. It covers every major service in the county, from parks and recreation to fire protection.
The primary idea behind it is to prevent counties and cities from duplicating services, so, for example, a city and the county don’t end up paving the same road twice.
The service delivery strategy also deals with what entities pay for what services. Many times for the smaller cities, the county provides services for little or no charge. For example, the last delivery agreement in 1999 provided for the county to give Mt. Zion, Roopville, Temple, Villa Rica and Whitesburg fire protection for $1 per year for the next 50 years.
“I think the county has sort of taken the leadership role, and we have agreed to pay a little more money, and agreed to provide a little more services,” said Commissioner Trent North, who was on the Board of Commissioners in 1999. “I call it a leadership role, but in reality it’s keeping the peace.”
The delivery strategy and SPLOST fall together by coincidence this year. The strategy must be submitted to the state along with the county’s mandatory comprehensive plan for growth, which is due in October.
North said politics also played a role in crafting the delivery agreement.
“When Bill Chappell goes into negotiations with the mayor of Carrollton, for example, he knows the mayor represents that city,” North said. “When Bill goes to negotiate with Villa Rica, he remembers that, too. Every chairman has needed the municipalities; the municipalities don’t necessarily need the chairman. And my hypothesis is that in the past, this is the reason the county has always come up on the short end of the stick.
“Every commissioner knows what municipalities are in their districts, and they’re not going to argue, ‘Are we giving Carrollton too much?’ or ‘Are we giving Villa Rica too much?’ No one ever questions what we’re doing in their district.”
North, whose District 1 splits the Carrollton area with Commissioner John Wilson’s District 4, said he hoped the county and cities could work together to come up with an equitable agreement. Commissioner Herman Ayers, who was also on the county commission when the last delivery agreement was created, echoed North’s comments.
“Most of the time we stay out of it until it’s all done,” said Ayers, who is running for chairman and whose District 6 includes the Bowdon area. “Just so long as we’re not giving away the farm, we do what we can.”