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Roads, parks, fire top Gainesville SPLOST projects
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A Hall County Fire Services truck sits in Fire Station No. 2 on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. The fire station has seen many additions to the building since it was built in 1954 to accommodate for advancements in trucks and personnel. - photo by Erin O. Smith

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

Projects old and new top Gainesville’s list of priorities as a vote on a new round of special purpose local option sales tax looms.

If SPLOST VII passes on March 17, the city will receive about $25.4 million over the five-year life of the countywide 1 percent sales tax to fund capital projects.

The total projected revenue is $158 million. If approved, SPLOST VII will take effect July 1.

For its share, city officials have identified three major areas of spending, including $12.9 million for roads and sewers, $6.75 million for parks and $5.5 million for the fire department.

The Public Works Department will have its hands full if the sales tax is approved, but director David Dockery said specific projects have not yet been outlined.

But a few things are obvious.

Road resurfacing needs are a constant, and the city has aging stormwater infrastructure, much of it older than five decades, Dockery said.

So expect to see some money put to use here.

One thing, however, seems poised not get an overhaul: Green Street.

Widening the state route, which could entail having to relocate businesses, is a project much more expensive than SPLOST money can cover, Dockery said.

“Green Street is a challenge, to put it mildly,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials are prepared to spend nearly $7 million building out phase I of a new youth sports complex on a 368-acre city-owned property at the intersection of Monroe Drive and Allen Creek Road .

Councilman Sam Couvillon, who sits on the city’s parks and recreation board, said no new field has been built in Gainesville in more than 30 years, and the needs of Little League and school sports teams are not being addressed.

The proposed complex includes baseball/softball fields, multi-purpose football fields, tennis courts, playgrounds and trails, plus concessions, restrooms and parking.

The initial phase will include fields, drainage infrastructure, parking, concessions and restrooms.

Additional fields, tennis courts and walking paths will need other funding.

The total project cost is $12 million to $14 million.

Finally, the city plans to spend $4 million replacing fire station No. 2, located at 310 Piedmont Road. 

Chief Jerome Yarbrough said the station, built in the mid-1950s, has severe plumbing and electrical problems and that fire trucks do not fit in the garage.

He added that the station may either be rebuilt or relocated nearby.

Finally, the department plans to purchase a new fire truck with remaining SPLOST money.

The city had identified more than $43 million in projects last summer to be supported by SPLOST VII before cutting the list to match revenue projections. 

Gainesville, however, will also benefit from $22.9 million in SPLOST money allocated for countywide projects.

These “level two” projects include renovations to the Gainesville library branch and the Senior Life Center.

City officials said the SPLOST VII vote will determine a lot about how this year’s budget process unfolds.

In recent statements, officials said the sales tax is even more critical now that state government wants to tap local government revenues to pay for a $1 billion transportation bill.

But that bill also includes the prospect of higher gas taxes, which could be a consideration when voters head to the polls to decide the fate of SPLOST VII. 

Mayor Danny Dunagan made his appeal for voters to support the sales tax in his recent State of the City speech.

“As your mayor and council, you depend on us to provide clean drinking water, quick response times for police and fire and playgrounds for families,” he said. “We can’t do this without your support.”

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