The Road Ahead: A 15-day series on the transportation sales tax and how it will affect 13 counties in the Northeast Georgia region.
EXEMPTIONS FROM THE TAX
These items would be exempt from the transportation sales tax:
• Motor, jet, locomotive and public mass transit fuel
• Off-road fuel for heavy-duty, farm or agricultural equipment
• The sale or use of energy used in manufacturing or processing tangible goods
• Building and construction materials.
Also, the tax is only levied on the first $5,000 of any transaction involving the sale or lease of a motor vehicle.
Source: Association County Commissioners of Georgia
UPCOMING TAX HEARINGS
• When: 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday
• Where: North Hall High School, 4885 Mount Vernon Road, Gainesville
• When: 5:30-7 p.m. June 25
• Where: Flowery Branch Depot, Main Street at Railroad Avenue, Flowery Branch
• Contact: ghmpo.org, 770-531-6809
Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin isn’t so ready to answer how the northeast Hall County city might spend its 25 percent share from the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax.
“The first thing I want to say is we don’t count our chickens before they hatch,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that another $100,000 a year would boost the city’s transportation efforts.
Money from the state’s current Local Maintenance Improvement Grants “is almost nonexistent now, so this (new allocation) would finally level the playing field,” he said.
Much of the focus on the July 31 referendum has been on regional projects, as they would be funded by 75 percent of the revenues.
But a key piece of Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which paved the way for the referendum, is a plan to distribute 25 percent of tax revenues to local governments to use as they see fit.
A survey of counties in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region — one of 12 designated regions throughout Georgia that will vote on the tax — shows that most haven’t laid out specific plans for the money. The region will receive about $234 million over 10 years, based on state calculations.
The state law allows governments to use the money to prop up their annual road budgets, spending for paving and other routine maintenance needs, or toward road projects of their choosing.
The 25 percent pot “is what’s going to be big for us,” said Lamar Paris, Union County sole commissioner and chairman of the Georgia Mountains transportation roundtable that developed the region’s project list.
“If it passes, I’m going to form a citizens committee and let them be involved ... so they don’t think we’ll be using (the 25 percent) for political purposes,” he said. “We want to be able to make our roads better and safer.”
Hall County has taken more formal steps toward developing a 25 percent plan, with officials having said the more information the better for voters to make a decision on July 31.
As part of government talks, a major road project has resurfaced as a possible project: widening Browns Bridge Road from McEver Road to Forsyth County.
Planners originally considered the project as one of its regional projects, but then leaders decided to pull it in favor of widening Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway from Ga. 53/Winder Highway to Gwinnett County.
Other projects for the 25 percent include reclamation work on McEver Road, Crescent Drive/White Sulphur Road improvements from Jesse Jewell Parkway to Ramsey Road, White Sulphur improvements from Ga. 365 to Ramsey Road, and improvements at Old Cornelia Highway and Joe Chandler Road and at Hog Mountain Road at Blackjack, Cash and Credit roads.
Oakwood and Flowery Branch would use the money for pavement management and sidewalk and intersection improvements, according to a Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization document.
Gainesville would use the money for resurfacing, sidewalks along state routes within the city, efforts to help reduce speed on local streets and improvements at such intersections as Jesse Jewell Parkway and Prior Street, Woods Mill Road at Rainey and Oak streets, and Park Hill Drive at Enota Drive.
Also, work could include projects that are identified as part of a Gainesville transportation study as planned by the city and the MPO, according to the MPO document.
James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the 25 percent allocation often is lost in the discussion about the sales tax.
“Until you get off the highways and onto secondary roads, you forget that maintenance is a critical component of this,” he said. “Looking after what we have is going to be increasingly important.”
At a June 7 public meeting on the referendum at the Georgia Mountains Center, Doug Aiken of Murrayville said he was concerned about the lack of transit projects on Hall’s list.
Srikanth Yamala, the MPO’s transportation planning manager, said, “The city of Gainesville is looking at using some of its 25 percent (money) to enhance Hall Area Transit.”
He was referring to the public transportation system that serves the Gainesville area.
“If Gainesville is willing to do that, I don’t see any reason why Gainesville wouldn’t have a conversation with Hall County at the appropriate time,” Yamala said.
Even though Bergin isn’t committed to any 25 percent projects, he has been dreaming some as to how it could be spent.
The city is looking at making pedestrian improvements.
“We’ve got 5.6 miles identified that we would like to do an addition and rehabilitation, and this money would help further that along quite a bit,” Bergin said.