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Georgia sales tax, gas tax get attention at roads meeting
Chamber of commerce CEO says tax is imperative for future jobs
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FLOWERY BRANCH — A series of Hall County public meetings on the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax — an issue that has sharply divided area residents — ended Monday on a relatively quiet note.

A brief discussion among the handful of people who attended centered on the gas tax, which is the current source for paying for road projects, and the history of the state sales tax.

John Reed, who lives outside Oakwood, reflected on how the sales tax has doubled since the early 1960s and 1970s.

“But at the same time, we added people,” said Srikanth Yamala, Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s transportation planning manager, who presided over the four meetings sponsored by the MPO.

“Georgia has been blessed that there’s this continued growth over the past several decades. All that the projects are doing is making up for the growth.”

At each meeting, Yamala gave an overview of the proposed sales tax, which will go to a statewide vote on July 31. The issue will be decided by a majority vote in each of 12 established regions.

Hall County falls in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region and is expected to receive $300 million for nine regional projects and $60 million in local discretion money over the 10-year life of the tax if it passes.

Yamala’s presentation gave a breakdown of each of the projects and their costs, plus a timetable for each as built with the tax money and built without it.

In a discussion about the gas tax, Randal Cochran, who lives near the Gwinnett County line in South Hall, referred to one of Yamala’s charts that shows Georgians have been driving more than ever, except in the past couple of years.

“That means dollars are going way up,” he said.

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said, however, that “the average automobile sold in America today gets 40 percent better gas mileage than it did 10 years ago, so even though we’re driving more, we’re buying less fuel.”

“I don’t know. It just seems to me that more dollars are going into the system and to me, we’re getting less out of it,” Cochran said. “And now, we’re asked to put more in the system to do these projects.”

Reed also expressed concern that money hasn’t been set aside for needed improvement projects such as Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road and McEver Road.

“What you’re saying is we’re kicking the can down the road and not to do those roads,” he said.

Yamala said the county could use its local-discretion money — an amount totaling 25 percent of tax revenues, compared to 75 percent for regional projects — to leverage federal and state money for projects, such as Ga. 369, that didn’t make the regional list.

One of the regional projects does call for improvements to three McEver Road intersections; there is no full-scale widening of the road planned.

Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, also spoke at Monday’s meeting.

She talked about the chamber board’s support of the sales tax.

“We felt like it was so important for the future of jobs, not only for existing industry but new industry we want to bring here,” Dunlap said. “Logistics and transportation are always at the very top of the charts. To create jobs for the future, we must put some money in to support the infrastructure.”

After the meeting, Reed said he has decided not to support the tax.

He cited his comments during the meeting, saying he believes Ga. 369 and McEver Road should be addressed.

“I think the priorities of the roads are out of order,” said Reed, a Georgia Department of Transportation retiree.