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Hurdles remain before transportation tax is passed
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A penny sales tax for transportation could generate some $25 million for Hall County alone, but government leaders have a few hurdles to clear first.

“We need to act fast here because there are a bunch of deadlines that we are looking at,” said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Yamala plans to address the subject before the Hall County Board of Commissioners at its work session at 9 a.m. today. The meeting will take place in the commission meeting room on the second floor of the Courthouse Annex, 116 Spring St. S.E.

Citing the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 passed by the Georgia legislature, Yamala said the first thing that needs to happen is two representatives from each of the 13 counties making up the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, including Hall, must form a regional transportation roundtable.

That group must hold its first meeting after Nov. 15, Yamala said. The 26 members of the Northeast Georgia roundtable need to reach consensus on the final project list.

“If by October 2011, the final list is not approved by the roundtable, a ‘district gridlock’ will be declared ... and we can’t call for another vote for two years,” Yamala said.

The tax is not levied until it is approved by voters, and the earliest that could occur is during the 2012 statewide primary.

“Not each county needs to pass (the tax),” Yamala said. “It’s an overall thing. If the (issue) gets more than half of the vote, it passes.”

The legislation that won overwhelming approval in the House and Senate divides Georgia into 12 regions and ask voters in each region whether to hike the sales tax by 1 cent to pay for roads, bridges and rail projects in that part of the state.

In Northeast Georgia, Hall and Forsyth counties, by far, have the most to gain by the tax’s passage.

Yamala has said Hall County has an estimated $170 million in needed road improvements.

A few key projects that need attention include the widening of Spout Springs Road in South Hall, construction of the Sardis Road Connector in northwest Hall and building a new Interstate 985 interchange between Flowery Branch and Oakwood.

“Any additional transportation funding we can get will definitely help Hall County in terms of economic development and moving people,” he said in an interview after the Legislature voted in April.

In Northeast Georgia, the tax would generate as much as $26.8 million for Forsyth County and as little as $1.9 million for Towns County.

“The best part of (the new law) is that (tax revenue) isn’t just for new roads,” Yamala said. “It can be used for maintenance and operation (or) if a county wants to put up new traffic lights. It could be a road that just needs repavement.”

The district group would consist of the commission chair or sole commissioner from each county and one mayor as selected by other mayors in each county.

Yamala also plans to give a more detailed presentation on the sales tax initiative at the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy committee meeting, which is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St.

“The one glitch in the (law) is that it doesn’t talk about staffing,” Yamala said. “Because Hall County (has the) only MPO in the 13-county region, maybe we need to take a leadership role here and visit with all these counties and bring them together.”

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