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Area officials object to transportation, federal grants bills
Hall County, Gainesville send joint letter to legislators
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It’s not everyday that Hall County and Gainesville officials come to an agreement, but their joint displeasure this week with two proposed bills in the state legislature united them.

In a letter to the state delegation from Hall County, local government officials underscore the bubbling protest to the proposed $1 billion transportation plan.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he feels the state is trying to fund transportation projects on the backs of cities and counties by targeting local sales tax revenue.

“While we firmly believe that the state’s transportation issues need to be addressed, we are convinced that what is proposed in this bill is not an acceptable solution,” the letter states.

According to officials, Hall County will lose $5.2 million a year, and Gainesville will lose $1.1 million, if the bill passes.

Councilman Bob Hamrick said it’s “shifting the tax burden.”

A property tax increase could be on the table to recoup these lost revenues, officials said.

Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said funding transportation projects as currently proposed is a way for state lawmakers to avoid any backlash from tax increases.

Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum said it is unclear just how much revenue could be at stake, but warned that targeting local coffers could have far-reaching consequences.

“We’re not quite sure,” he added. “This thing has a tendency to change from time to time.”

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said he believes these concerns are genuine, but also cautioned that it’s the “first quarter of the ballgame” and a “long way before the finish line.”

Miller said aspects of the bill are a solid foundation to build upon, and reiterated his support for a higher consumption tax on fuel to pay for transportation projects.

“No one should ride for free,” he added.

Another bill, which is co-sponsored by state Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, would require local governments to receive approval from the state legislature before accepting federal grant money.

Local officials said House Bill 14 would add an unnecessary level of bureaucratic red tape to the process, and have a particularly harmful effect on public safety agencies. 

“We’ll be cut off if the state has their way,” Councilman George Wangemann said.

Barr said while he supports adding a layer of accountability for how grant funds are spent, the bill “does go farther than the scope I think it should.”

The bill’s language may be tweaked in committee, Barr said.

Barr said his primary motivation is to ensure state agencies get permission before taking federal grants. He wants to limit the authority department leaders have to spend tax dollars.

It’s clear a lot of debate remains before lawmakers vote on either bill. But for now, Gainesville and Hall County officials are on common ground.

“We support you and desire to work alongside you, however, we must voice our opposition to these two bills, which would significantly impact our ability to meet the needs of our citizens,” the letter states.

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