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Residents air concerns on proposed transportation tax
Hall County's project list at $300 million
Christian Tetzlaff of Gainesville fills out a comment card Tuesday supporting the widening of Browns Bridge Road during a public hearing at the Spout Springs Branch Library in Flowery Branch. Officials and members of the public gathered to discuss the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

FLOWERY BRANCH — Theresa Webb of Gainesville arrived Tuesday night at a public hearing not particularly supportive of the state's proposed 1 percent transportation tax.

But after peppering officials with questions and trying to learn more about the issue, she left with a slightly different mindset.

"I have to give it some thought," said Webb, who attended with her husband, Gary Longueuil.

He still had some questions, including "What happens if the tax doesn't raise the money it's supposed to?"

Some 50-plus people showed up in South Hall Tuesday night for an "open house"-style public hearing on the proposed tax, which, if approved by voters in a referendum next year, would be imposed for 10 years and be spent on transportation and transit improvements.

The hearing, which took place at the Hall County Library System's Spout Springs branch, didn't feature any formal presentations.

Instead, residents were encouraged to look at maps and ask questions of the many government officials representing a mixture of agencies, including the Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Mountains Regional Commission and the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

And people attended for a variety of reasons.

Bill Stroud wanted to talk to officials about a project not under consideration for funding by the tax.

A "problem exists with the northbound traffic on Ga. 13 (Atlanta Highway) trying to turn west on Memorial Park Drive with no left-turn arrow," he said. "... And the problem has been exacerbated by improvements on Interstate 985 (in Oakwood)."

Webb and Longueuil entered the meeting with several specific concerns, including the tax's 10-year lifespan.

"That's a long time," said Webb, who also fretted about the tax's potential impact on businesses.

Phillippa Lewis Moss, Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center director, said she would like to see funding restored for paratransit services.

Moss oversees Hall Area Transit, the county's public transportation service. Paratransit particularly focuses on services for people with disabilities, as well as the elderly.

"I'm disappointed that there are no transit projects for our entire community," she said. "I understand there was a lot of negotiation, a lot of compromise that needed to take place in order for all the projects to get on (the list).

"But given that the paratransit project was the smallest (amount) on the entire list, I am befuddled as to why it didn't make the final cut."

Voters by regions statewide will vote next year — possibly in July, even though lawmakers have suggested moving the date to the general election in November — on whether to accept the new tax.

A majority vote, or 50 percent plus one, across the region would pass it.

The 13-county Georgia Mountains region would receive an estimated $1.26 billion over the decade, with some $945 million going toward regional projects and the remaining $315 million going to county and city governments to use as they see fit.

Hall's project list, which amounts to nearly $300 million, includes such projects as widening Spout Springs Road in South Hall and completing the Sardis Connector in northwest Hall.

Through a lengthy process, a committee comprising government officials settled on a draft list to present to the public at the hearings.

Other hearings are set for Tuesday at the Stephens County Courthouse in Toccoa, Sept. 22 at the Forsyth County Administration Building in Cumming and Sept. 22 at the White County Library in Cleveland. All are set for 5-7 p.m.

A 26-member transportation roundtable featuring top city and county elected officials from the region has until Oct. 15 to produce the final list.

That group is set to meet next at 5 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Ruby Albright Recreation and Aquatic Center in Clarkesville.

Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner and Tom Oliver, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, are roundtable members.