Columbus Council will ask voters next year to approve a 1% sales tax to fund a new government and judicial center, among other projects.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday night, with District 2 Councilor Glenn Davis absent, to approve a resolution that means the city will work toward getting a list of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects on the ballot for voters on Nov. 3, 2020.
Estimating from current collection rates, that 1% tax could generate a maximum of $350,000,000 over 10 years, according to City Manager Isaiah Hugley.
The current sales tax in Columbus is 8%.
The Muscogee County School District currently has an ESPLOST that expires June 30, 2020. The school board has not decided whether it will ask voters to renew the tax.
The city would borrow money to build the new buildings by issuing bonds, and use the SPLOST income to pay the debt off.
A few crucial steps must take place before the measure is placed on the ballot, Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge said.
The first set of public meetings will be held between October 2019 and February 2020 to get public input on other projects citizens would like considered.
A second round of public meetings will be held between March and June 2020 to discuss any new information about the government center and get additional input on other projects.
A presentation including the information gathered from the public will be given to council in July 2020.
Council would be asked to approve a resolution and list of projects at the end of July.
A call for election will be held August 4, 2020.
The project list will be placed on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.
If voters approve it, SPLOST collection would begin April 1, 2021 and the first funds would be received at the end of May.
Between August 2019 and March 2020, city staff will be working to determine the space needs and the budget for the government and judicial center, according to Hodge.
That will include using the architects the city has under annual contract, using a judicial consultant to determine the current and future space needs, and consulting with a general contractor or project manager to help determine the budget.
Council will discuss narrowing the four options for the new government center down to two during the July 30 work session.
Prior to the SPLOST vote, council must choose an option, decide whether there will be one building or separate buildings and decide which site or sites will be used.
City staff will also need to develop requests for qualifications for the design services, construction services and project management.
“Once that site is selected, we want to be prepared that if there is a positive vote on the SPLOST, that we can move forward quickly to start the design services for that,” Hodge said.
Council also approved a construction manager-at-risk process to build the new center, the same process used to construct the Citizen Services Center, Aquatics Center and parking structure, among other large city projects.
The method, among other things, sets a guaranteed maximum price that leaves the firm responsible for any additional cost, reports The Balance, a small business website.
During the meeting Tuesday, several councilors said they were concerned about hiring a judicial consultant because of the cost and not knowing whether it was necessary. The proposed budget for that consultant is currently $275,000, Hodge said.
Hodge said the role of the judicial consultant would be to look at the caseload of the judges and the number of judges and determine how much space would be needed to accommodate future growth.
“It seems a little bit redundant,” District 5 Councilor Charmaine Crabbe said.
Superior Court Judge Gil McBride said the city should listen to the citizens and the lawyers who use the building on a daily basis when they make a decision on where to put the judicial center, which could end up being separate from the administrative government center.
“The best judicial consultant you can have would be one who listens to the lawyers who make their living in that building and who represent the citizens who depend on that building,” McBride said.