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A look ahead: Top local government stories to watch in 2015
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One look into the crystal ball reveals several top local government stories to watch in 2015, though there are always sure to be surprises when it comes to city and county politics and policy.

As local leaders prepare their legislative agendas for the new year, here’s a preview of a few stories sure to grab headlines in 2015.

SPLOST VII

Getting a vote on a new round of special purpose local option sales tax proved a major headache for county and municipal officials in 2014 after a handful of public input meetings failed to generate the hoped-for response.

But with the vote delayed from November to March 17, officials were able to get some clarity on exactly what projects to fund if voters approve a five-year round of SPLOST VII, which is estimated to generate about $158 million in revenue. Transportation and sewer infrastructure projects, as well as E-911 communications upgrades, top the list.

But the 1 percent sales tax remains controversial in Hall County in light of the fact SPLOST VI revenue projections did not meet expectations, while certain expenditures were made on projects never explicitly approved by voters.

Gainesville City Council elections

After a year in which Gainesville transitioned to its first elected mayor, elections for three City Council seats will be held in November 2015.

Council members Myrtle Figueras, Ruth Bruner and Bob Hamrick will have to decide whether to seek re-election.

Development issues

The first major development fight could take place as soon as next week when the county planning commission takes up a proposal to build a subdivision in South Hall.

Later this month, the city will review revised proposals for a drive-thru restaurant and small retail outlet on the corner of Thompson Bridge Road and Virginia Circle.

As more commercial and residential growth comes to all parts of the county, area residents are growing more vocal in their opposition as they battle to retain their quality of life.

It will also be interesting to see if developments approved in 2014 prove their worth (such as the redevelopment of Lanier Plaza on Thompson Bridge to make way for a Wal-Mart grocery store) or even get off the ground (such as the controversial Ahaluna Drive subdivision near the shores of Lake Lanier).

Budgets

Every year brings with it budget challenges for Hall County, Gainesville and other local governments. This has been particularly true in recent years as officials have faced hard choices about where to make cuts as tax revenues slumped.

Though the local economy is improving — the jobless rate has fallen, new home permits have increased, major commercial developments are jumping back to life — many questions remain about just how local governments will balance their budgets in 2015.

Will recent commercial and residential growth reveal itself in larger tax revenues for the county and local municipalities?

Will workers receive raises?

What departments will see cuts? Which will see greater resources?

What about government debt?

And what happens if SPLOST VII doesn’t pass at the ballot box?