Following an 84% voter approval referendum held last November to continue imposing a 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), the County has moved forward on the three cornerstone projects that the sales tax will contribute significant funding towards. The three projects listed on the ballot include the purchase of a ladder truck for the Butts County Fire Department; the construction of an annex or expansion to the existing County Administration Building to house court services; and the rehabilitation of the County’s historic 120 year old downtown courthouse building.
The SPLOST is anticipated to generate up to $23 million, of which $16 million would be distributed in percentages to the County; the three Cities and the Water Authority. The other $7 million in funding will go towards the three large projects, and the money for these projects has already been bonded and is currently available to begin project work.
One of the key needs that has been identified for the past few years was for a ladder truck that can be used by the Fire Department for the larger and taller buildings that Butts County is now getting. As the County adds industrial warehouse and distribution center space in excess of 50 feet in height, as well as anticipated commercial and potential hotels along the Interstate 75 corridor, the need for a ladder truck housed locally has intensified. In recent meetings, the Board of Commissioners took bids for and awarded contracts to FireLine for the building and delivery of a ladder truck, which should arrive in 2019. The new truck will be housed at the Colwell Road Fire Station, which was built to house a truck of this size. The location also puts it in close proximity to the Interstate and near industrial projects such as Dollar General Distribution and Liberty Commerce Center.
The second project is the expansion of the existing County Administration Building to provide for court services at that location. When the current facility was constructed as an adaptive reuse project in 2006, it was with the intention of getting all of the administrative functions of the County under one roof immediately and to someday expand to allow court services to come in the future. The County solicited requests for qualifications, empaneled a review committee made of up court representatives and county officials and selected a design-build team to both design the expansion and construct it. The Board of Commissioners approved the selection of CT Darnell Construction, partnered with the architectural firm of Clark Patterson Lee to design and build the expansion. County Administrator Steve Layson will be the local project manager for this new wing and will, along with other County staff and stakeholders, work closely with the company to arrive at the desired end result. This would hopefully allow the relocation of the Superior, Juvenile, Probate and Magistrate Courts, plus an array of court support services, to the Administration Building, hopefully by sometime in 2020.
The third project will be the interior rehabilitation of the Historic Butts County Courthouse. The building, which was constructed in 1898 and is a National Historic Registry Site, is impractical to continue service as a court facility but could become a suitable facility for other purposes including community agencies, historical, tourism, meeting space, film and more. Using the same type of process as the Administration Building expansion, the Board of Commissioners selected Garbutt Construction, partnered with the architectural firm of Lord Aeck Sargent to handle the design and build processes. Government Relations Director and County Clerk Michael Brewer has been appointed to manage this project. He will work with both the design/build team as well as citizens knowledgeable about the building’s history and unique architectural qualities to bring the historic courthouse back to optimal condition. This phase of rehabilitation will focus on modernizing building systems such as mechanical, climate control, electrical/phone/data wiring, plumbing, a modern elevator and building stabilization. Cosmetic repair and restoration would also be part of the program as funding permits. The overall objective here is to achieve a safe, efficient and usable building while preserving the unique architectural and historical attributes that make the building special. This project, once begun, should be a 12-15 month process, depending on what issues may have to be mitigated in the restoration process.
Since 1988, SPLOST has been used to construct fire stations, county offices and facilities; to build roads; to equip public safety agencies with needed vehicles and apparatus; to construct recreational facilities; to build an entire countywide water system and to do all of this with the goal of reducing and keeping property taxes manageable. Voters have approved a total of seven SPLOST referendums for the County, in addition to those passed by the School System, with over 53% currently paid by people outside of Butts County. The County looks forward to adding three more worthy SPLOST projects to the list of achievements attained over the past three decades using the penny sales tax.