Commissioner believes SPLOST failure to most impact the poor

Taylor Cooper, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 26—While those opposed to SPLOST 2021 had a variety of reasons for voting against the measure, some supporters feel the failure of the tax to pass will ultimately hurt the disadvantaged.

As a member of the Glynn County Commission who represents city residents and an area just outside the city limits, Allen Booker said losers of the failed tax can be exemplified in Arco.

Out of the $68.5 million the proposed three-year, one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2021 was expected to accrue, the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission stood to receive $15 million. Among the utility's uses for the money was expanding the public sewer system into Arco.

Most homes in Arco are on septic tanks. According to a study of the area by the JWSC, upwards of 268 parcels are without sewer access.

Residents of Arco — one of the oldest neighborhoods in the county — are contending with failing systems.

"It's beginning to become a community health issue," Booker said.

Gloria Lookadoo, a member of the neighborhood planning assembly, concurs. She could not say how many septic systems have failed but suspects the number to be already in the dozens.

"It's not shocking," she explained. "It's widespread in the African American community."

Septic systems can fail for a variety of reasons, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Age, poor design, lack of maintenance or, in the case of many temperate coastal septic tanks, changing groundwater levels.

Septic tanks don't work if the groundwater is too high. They require a certain amount of dry earth below them called the drain field.

The JWSC estimated the cost of extending sewer service to Arco from $3.5 million to $5.4 million. After more engineering work, the utility settled on including $3.5 million in its SPLOST 2021 proposal for Arco's sewer, on the lower end but still well above what the JWSC can afford out of pocket.

Utility commissioners said at a public meeting earlier this month that the projects on its SPLOST list still need to be completed, which may necessitate delaying other water and sewer work or raising customer rates. That decision will be made before the end of the fiscal year in June.

"We really want that to happen because there's so many septic tanks in our community and especially in the urban area we're trying to get rid of," said Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey, who sits on JWSC's governing board.

"Joint Water and sewer will have to consider how they will pay for that."

The city also lost out. It stood to gain $13 million from the tax specifically to spend on infrastructure and capital projects, which would have been a boon for the city's $46 million annual budget.

He understands the complaints flung at the tax — that citizens want more say-so on projects included on the list and that they didn't like the inclusion of courthouse expansion planning, an overhaul of the old Coast Guard station parking lot at East Beach or a roundabout at the intersection of Sea Island and Frederica Roads.

Some opponents of the tax argued Glynn County had managed the SPLOST 2016 projects poorly, had done a poor job of planning SPLOST 2021, that the revenue was not equitably distributed to benefit those in need and that it did not include much spending that would improve sea-level rise resiliency.

Those, however, had little to do with the city, Harvey felt, and yet some of the poorest areas of the county will now go without much-needed investment.

"I don't mind them being involved, but it really hurt all of us for at least a year. If we don't get it next year it'll be even worse," Harvey said.

The county government could call another SPLOST referendum during the 2022 general election but has yet to take any formal steps to do so.