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Public safety, road concerns top Hall SPLOST priorities
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Hall County Fire Services Station No. 1 on Athens Highway will be replaced if the SPLOST VII is approved on March 17.

SPLOST VII vote

The Times this week will preview projects proposed under the special purpose local option sales tax VII. Today we spotlight Hall County government projects.
Early voting: Begins Feb. 23 at the Hall County Elections Office, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
Election Day: March 17

What Hall County officials have said about SPLOST VII

  • “I think Hall County fully understands that they are a growth engine,” said Hall County Commission Chairman Richard Mecum. “We’ve got to stay ahead of the curve.”
  • “I think by putting in a citizen’s oversight committee, hopefully that will ease some of those people’s concerns,” said Commissioner Jeff Stowe. 
  • “You can pay for (SPLOST projects) out of the general fund,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said. “It just means a higher (property tax) rate.”

When it comes to special purpose local option sales tax, Hall County government gets the lion’s share of revenue, and that’s no small matter.

The projected revenue for the five-year life of SPLOST VII, which voters will decide the fate of on March 17, is $158 million. If approved, the 1-percent sales tax will take effect July 1.

Public safety spending is always a high priority, and using SPLOST revenues to cover equipment expenses is a way for county officials to bolster Fire Services and Sheriff’s Office budgets without dipping into the general fund.

More than $12 million is tagged for various fire department projects, including replacing station No. 1 on Athens Highway.

The station was built in 1973 when the county fire services was first created and at one time it served as department headquarters.

Chief Jeff Hood said the station could be moved to Gillsville Highway to better accommodate its service area.

Nearly $6 million is budgeted for two new stations, one in North Hall along the Ga. 365 corridor and one in South Hall, with monies to cover building

construction and vehicle and equipment purchases to outfit the stations.

County Administrator Randy Knighton said the new stations will meet expected growth in these areas over the next several years. However, the stations will be built when the demand arises and there is no current timeline for breaking ground.

SPLOST revenues cannot be used to pay for maintenance and operations costs, which means that staffing new fire stations will one day hit the general fund.

The biggest single SPLOST VII project expense for Hall County is purchasing right-of-way access along Spout Springs Road in order to widen that South Hall thoroughfare.

The project calls for widening Spout Springs to four lanes between Hog Mountain and Thompson Mill roads, a distance of 6.1 miles. The road, running by schools, churches, homes and businesses, would feature a median and bicycle/pedestrian paths.

About $20 million has been budgeted for the purchase of right-of-way access, and county officials said they could be reimbursed in whole or in part by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Hall County has pushed for the widening project for years, as residential and commercial growth has pushed Spout Springs’ traffic capacity beyond its limits. The cost of the project is about $104 million.

In total, nearly $47 million has been earmarked for other road improvements across the county, including $16.9 million for resurfacing projects. The county has 1,100 miles of road to maintain.

County officials said that while they budget some road repairs in the general fund, there is not enough property tax revenue to meet repaving needs.

Replacing bridges on Joe Chandler Road in East Hall and Hubert Stephens Road in North Hall are also priorities.

County officials have identified about $22 million in water and sewer infrastructure needs, including paying down debt on the Mulberry Creek sewer facility.

Another $11.4 million will go toward various water and sewer projects as county officials look to build out infrastructure, particularly in South Hall, to accommodate new residential and commercial growth.

However, county officials said there have been no discussions about using SPLOST VII monies to pay for costs associated with the proposed Glades Reservoir in North Hall, which has been a point of contention for some residents.

Close to $4 million has been pegged for building renovations, though specifics are lacking.

And $4.9 million has been budgeted for parks and recreation, including money for the Elachee Nature Science Center. The center has plans to expand programs and complete lobby and exhibit renovations.

About $2.8 million is eyed for public safety equipment purchases, which could include patrol cars for the Sheriff’s Office.

Hall County’s total take of the projected SPLOST revenue is close to $97 million.

An additional $22.9 million will be swiped off the top to pay for projects that have a purported countywide impact, such as upgrades to the emergency 911 system and renovations to the main library branch in Gainesville.

Local municipalities, meanwhile, will split about $37.4 million.

Money is divvied up between the county and participating cities based on population.

But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks it’s a fair formula.

Moreover, local cities have sometimes felt squeezed out of the process as Hall took the lead in developing a list of capital projects to be funded by SPLOST VII.

“From Oakwood’s perspective, the (SPLOST intergovernmental agreement) is not a negotiated agreement, but rather a ‘take it or leave it’ document with terms dictated by the county,” Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown told The Times last month.

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