With a regional road projects list completed by Oct. 15 a virtual lock, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce is looking to the campaign leading to the July 31 vote on a proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation.
“We have less than a year and that sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not when you start educating people,” said Kit Dunlap, chamber president and CEO, during an Issues Committee meeting Wednesday morning.
“As far as the chamber goes, I think that we would play a major role in trying to get this thing passed.”
In its one meeting this summer, the Georgia Mountains Transportation Roundtable tinkered little with the list, which features a slate of Hall projects, and is set to meet Oct. 5 in Clarkesville to give its final OK.
The state has set an Oct. 15 deadline for 12 designated regions throughout the state to submit project lists.
Residents statewide will vote July 31, but the tax will be decided by a majority vote — 50 percent plus one — in the individual regions.
Officials acknowledge they may have an uphill battle getting it passed, given the bum economy and a rife anti-tax political climate.
Issues Committee members said they believed talking with potential voters, including staunch tea partiers, about the proposed 10-year tax before opposition campaigns get under way is vital.
“What are the greatest hurdles in clearing the opposition to this plan?” Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann asked the group at the meeting, taking place at chamber offices off E.E. Butler Parkway.
“Here, we have the choir, but out there, I think there’s a mixture of feelings toward this, especially in the anti-tax sentiment we find ourselves in right now.”
“Education, education — get to them one on one,” Dunlap said.
The issue has drawn a fair bit opposition from the tea party, particularly on the tax’s distribution, officials said.
Tea party representatives complained about the state legislature trying to move the referendum date to the general election in November and won a victory there, as lawmakers put off the issue — perhaps for good.
“Between now and next year, there will be a number of opportunities to continue to discuss this, to educate and inform citizens,” Hall County Manager Randy Knighton said. “This is a big deal. This is important.”
The tax, if approved, would generate some $1.25 billion in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region.
In Hall, the sales tax would rise to 8 percent from 7.
Hall County proposes some $300 million in projects under the tax, including the widening of Spout Springs Road in South Hall and completion of the Sardis Connector in northwest Hall.
“There’s an economic development aspect to this that I don’t want to be lost here,” Knighton said.
One late change in Hall projects involved taking off the list Browns Bridge Road widening from McEver Road to Forsyth County and replacing it with widening Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway from Ga. 53/Winder Highway to Gwinnett County, freeing up $9 million.
Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, announced Wednesday that money since has been tagged to McEver Road improvements at Gaines Ferry, Lights Ferry and Stephens roads in West Hall.
Officials also spoke Wednesday of the need to explain to voters that money will be available for improvements beyond what is called for on the projects list.
If the tax is approved, 25 percent of the proceeds would go to city and county governments to use as they see fit — another $61.5 million in Hall County alone. Issues Committee members said they believe voters would need to know specific projects rather than just another pot of money would be available.
“The cities and the county will be getting together in the next couple of months (to discuss that issue) and hopefully have a list by early next year,” Yamala said.