If Hall County area governments pursue a 1-cent sales tax for roads, they need to first clear projects with the Georgia Department of Transportation, a county government support agency officials told area transportation officials Friday.
“Don’t put a project (on the ballot) hoping that after you pass it, (the state) will do it,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director of Association County Commissioners of Georgia, speaking at a transportation planning retreat at the Hall County Government Center.
“Remember, when you pass these (referendums), you’ve basically committed to the voters that you’re going to build (the roads).
“So, if you’re thinking you’re going to use state dollars to build it with and you don’t have that commitment upfront, then you’ll be in a difficult situation.”
No such referendum is planned in Hall, and a special purpose local option sales tax for transportation — or TSPLOST — hasn’t been a hot topic.
But road congestion is a growing concern, with several hefty projects underway, planned or being discussed — such as Interstate 985 widening in South Hall.
And funding projects is always an issue.
In the past couple of legislative sessions, the General Assembly has created and tweaked law to give counties an opportunity to pass a 1-cent tax for roads.
Fulton County was the first Georgia county to pass such a referendum in November, and nine counties are considering them, including Clarke, Mueller said.
Another option is for counties is to join forces with neighboring counties in designated regions throughout the state and try to put a regional sales tax before the voters.
That was done in 2012 and voters in most regions — including Hall as part of the Georgia Mountains — rejected the measure. The 75 percent vote against the tax in the 13-county Georgia Mountains was the biggest nay vote in Georgia.
“The General Assembly, I think, still prefers a regional approach,” Mueller said, adding that the law has incentives to “push people in that direction.”
The law, however, hasn’t changed on the number of counties that can pair up for a regional vote — it’s still based on the regions statewide, including Georgia Mountains.
“No appetite for changing that?” Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey asked.
“It’s been talked about (as part of the single-county law) … but nothing so far,” Mueller said.
During a break in the meeting, Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he “feels sure” area officials will discuss the possibility of a sales tax vote “because transportation needs aren’t going away. They’re just going to get worse.”
However, Lackey said current law has negatives that make such a vote not so enticing — including that collection only lasts five years compared to 10 on a regional scale and that an additional penny wouldn’t be collected at gas pumps.
“That makes our collections less that (the general SPLOST), which is $158 million … and that doesn’t get you a lot of projects,” Lackey said. “And it probably gets nothing coming out of the ground in five years.”