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Hall's wish list for sales tax to include sewer, roads
SPLOST renewal will be on fall ballot
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As Hall County moves forward on gathering public comment for a seventh special purpose local option sales tax, departments are also preparing their own wish lists.

Local government officials gathered last week to hold the first of three public meetings to receive input on what capital projects should be funded by a new five-year round of SPLOST.

Residents in attendance were handed a flyer and asked to check off what kinds of projects they would like to see funded — roads, parks, government buildings, water and sewer infrastructure, public safety — and a comments section was provided for anyone to address projects not on the short list, such as libraries.

Hall County residents will vote on whether to extend the 1 percent sales tax this fall. The latest revenue projection for the tax is about $158 million. That money would be distributed between the county and its municipalities based on population figures.

The county wish list, however, reflects just how substantial capital project needs are as the county prepares for expected growth in the coming years.

County finance officials received about $3.5 million in capital expense requests for the 2015 fiscal year. But only about $1.1 million has been included in the proposed budget.

Of course, the wish list also reflects the challenges of managing this growth, particularly as residents in South Hall push back against unchecked development.

Hall County has identified $223 million worth of capital projects, which includes about $44 million in municipal distributions.

Road improvements top the list, with about $87 million in repairs, upgrades and new construction earmarked for potential funding.

These projects include widening Spout Springs Road; intersection improvements at Hog Mountain and Cash roads; culvert and bridge replacements; and traffic safety enhancements.

However, the proposed costs for new road construction, such as for Spout Springs Road and a Sardis Road connector, only include right-of-way acquisition. Construction costs would add to this expense.

Another $29 million has been eyed for sewer system projects, including expansion of both the North Hall and South Hall lines.

Moving down the list, about $5 million has been identified for park renovations, $4 million for building renovations, and $3.5 million to renovate the Gainesville library branch and purchase 60,000 books.

Public safety projects and expenses are robust. About $5 million has been identified to replace 20 sheriff’s patrol vehicles annually, while other funding could be directed to upgrades at the jail.

Meanwhile, Hall County Fire Services has built a list of projects to fund new fire stations, purchase new vehicles and upgrade emergency medical supplies. An additional $12 million has been identified to upgrade the E-911 system.

SPLOST money cannot be spent on maintenance and operations costs, meaning these expenses will fall on the general fund and other revenue streams in the budget.

This fact makes it even more critical for county officials to choose projects that can be sustained going forward.

For all the projects on the wish list, the county would incur about $1 million in annual operating expenses.

“We will have an additional vetting process with staff,” Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton told The Times in an email. “It is imperative that we receive public input and then discuss these proposals with our county commission for their final determination. Again, I would emphasize that this is a first draft that will undergo modification and change in conjunction with expected revenue.”