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Cost of road work to go up in 2013

Governments where sales tax was rejected must fork out more for upgrades

POSTED: December 30, 2012 12:30 a.m.

The effects of failed transportation sales tax votes across Georgia on July 31 are now being seen on city and county government ledgers.

To claim state road money for local improvements, such as paving and bridge repair, governments must match funding by 30 percent of the total, up from 10 percent.

For example, a government entitled to $100,000 must submit a list of projects totaling $130,000 and be willing to pick up the additional $30,000 tab. Under the previous system, it would have only accounted for an additional $10,000 in expenses.

Still, governments — including those in Hall County — are seeking funding through the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Local Maintenance Improvement Grant program, which is funded by motor fuel tax collections. This year’s amount statewide is $110 million.

Governments have until Tuesday to apply for the grant.

Tuesday, New Year’s Day, also marks the day when sales taxes will increase by a penny on the dollar in 46 Georgia counties that chose to implement them to pay for $1.8 billion in local transportation projects over the next decade.

Most of the state — more than two-thirds of Georgia counties — won’t be affected, as the sales tax referendum failed in nine of 12 voting regions in the July 31 primary.

The referendum took its worst beating in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, which includes Hall County. Only 25 percent of voters favored the tax.

Voting regions in east, southeast and west Georgia approved the tax. For them, 75 percent of the money will go to a pre-approved list of transportation projects that officials in each region agreed to before the vote this past summer. The remaining 25 percent of revenues will be divided among municipal governments for small, local projects.

The 30 percent match for regions not approving the tax — a provision in the 2010 law that paved the way for last summer’s vote — has been decried by even supporters of the tax.

“How much money is going to be available is going to be the real issue,” said Danny Lewis, executive director of the Gainesville-based Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

“What’s going to be coming out of the state compared to what’s come out in the last five years — that’s my bigger concern and would have been, with our without the sales tax vote,” he said.

At least the process to getting state money is smoother, officials have said.

“Last year’s process required more prep work, contracts (and so forth),” said David Dockery, Gainesville’s public works director. “Now, the application is simply preparing a project list, submitting the application and getting the allocation check.”

As for local governments, they are already moving forward on plans to get improvements done.

Hall County, for instance, has set aside $2.9 million for road resurfacing over the next six months.

The county is using special purpose local option sales tax revenue, as well as the LMI grant, to prop up its resurfacing efforts.

Nearly 20 miles of roads will be improved, with Bethel Road between Ga. 52 and Ga. 283 its biggest project between now and the overall completion date, April 30.

Also, Flowery Branch is looking to crank up what could be its biggest-ever road resurfacing program. With the help of the LMIG money, the city is eyeing $284,310 in downtown road improvements.

“If we continue at this pace, which we believe is perhaps doable with upcoming (local option sales tax) dollars that may come into the city, then we can assure that all of the roads within the city are at an appropriate level by 2025,” City Planner James Riker said at the Nov. 1 Flowery Branch City Council meeting.

As far as lawmakers mulling a future solution to major transportation woes, Lewis said, “I would be shocked to see anything that resembles (the sales tax referendum).

“I don’t look for anything to come out (of the legislature) unless they do some revisions to LMIG or some other projects that would affect us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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