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Planning group has concerns about transportation tax
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An area planning group raised concerns Tuesday about the state’s new plan for a penny sales tax for transportation.

With other 1-cent programs, “the cities and the county do not think they’re getting their fair share back,” said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

And they don’t want a repeat of that “if this (transportation tax) should pass,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting of the MPO’s policy committee.

Mike Miller, interim Flowery Branch mayor, said, “If (the state revenue department) can’t keep up with our tax dollars, why we are going to start giving them another penny ... if we don’t know where it’s going to go?”

Yamala gave a presentation to the committee about the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 passed this session by the Georgia legislature.

The law would allow voters statewide to decide ultimately whether to add a penny sales tax to pay for transportation and transit improvements, from new roads to maintenance and operation.

But there are steps leading to that vote set to occur during the 2012 statewide primary.

The law has created 12 districts throughout the state based on a map of the regional commissions, with Hall belonging to the 13-county Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

Two representatives from each of the 13 counties in the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission now must form a regional transportation roundtable.

That group must hold its first meeting after Nov. 15, Yamala said.

The measure would pass with a majority vote districtwide, meaning that larger counties such as Hall and Forsyth could hold sway on the vote.

However, the 26 members of the Northeast Georgia roundtable need to reach consensus on the final project list.

And “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.

A document prepared by the MPO shows that the tax could generate some $90 million in Northeast Georgia, including some $25 million in Hall County.

“When you look at the diversity we have in the region and you look at trying to build consensus ... I think there is going to have to be a commitment to look at what the projections are of how much the counties will contribute and make sure that amount of money goes back to those counties,” Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said after the meeting.

“We all have needs ... and some of those projects up in the mountains can be pretty costly too.”

Transportation funding has become sluggish in Georgia in recent years, largely because of a downturn in the economy.
Hall County alone has an estimated $170 million in needed road improvements.

“If this (tax program) is the only way we can get transportation money, we’ve got to be part of it,” Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner told the committee.

Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, said she believes that despite the hurdles presented by the law, “this is a big win for Georgia,” which is one of a few states without a “dedicated revenue source for transit and transportation programs.”

“Whatever we need to do administratively to make this work, whatever hands we need to shake, I’m all for that,” she said.