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Roads plan now moves to roundtables, public hearings
Roundtables have until Oct. 15 to approve final lists
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Roads meeting

What: Georgia Mountains transportation roundtable meeting
When: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Ruby Albright Recreation and Aquatic Center, 120 Paul Franklin Road, Clarkesville

Voters may have more time to weigh whether they support or oppose a 1 percent sales tax for transportation, as Georgia legislators mull moving the statewide referendum to November 2012 from July.

But regardless of the date, which may be decided this week as part of the legislature's special session, the process won't shorten for regional "roundtables" charged with finalizing project lists for voters to consider on their way to the ballot box.

And that process begins Wednesday for the Georgia Mountains region, which includes Hall County.

A 26-member group of top city and county officials, including Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner and Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver, will begin reviewing a project list compiled by a five-member executive committee headed by Habersham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Sonny James.

The group is set to meet 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ruby Albright Recreation and Aquatic Center, 120 Paul Franklin Road, Clarkesville.

Roundtables throughout Georgia have until Oct. 15 to approve a final list.

Lamar Paris, Union County's sole commissioner and the roundtable's chairman, said last week he hopes the Georgia Mountains roundtable can wrap up its work in two meetings, and he expects that three to five public hearings will be held throughout the region.

One of the hearings has been scheduled for Sept. 13 in Hall County.

"Issues may arise before the roundtable, but we're going to talk it through," he said. "We realize how important it is for as many of us as possible to agree with the list that we have."

The 13-county region's executive committee settled on a recommended project list Aug. 2, or nearly two weeks before the state's Aug. 15 deadline as set by the law setting up the whole process and vote, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010.

The Georgia Mountains region is estimated to receive $1.26 billion from the tax over 10 years, with 75 percent of that, or nearly $945 million, going for regional projects.

The remaining 25 percent, or some $315 million, going to city and county governments to use as they see fit, including for transit and maintenance.

As part of the proposed regional amount, Hall County would receive nearly $300 million for such projects as widening U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway from Nopone Road to White County and Spout Springs Road from Hog Mountain Road to Gwinnett County.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he would like to see a project calling for improvements to Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway in South Hall get placed back on the list.

"I think it's important, especially going toward Chateau Elan (in Braselton), because there are so many people who live down there," he said.

Paris has said he believes the transportation tax program isn't "perfect, but we've got to figure out a way to make it work."

"If it doesn't, our region could and probably will fall behind other regions of the state," he said.

Rogers said, "One thing I want to do is make sure we get a consensus from everybody that they are going to openly support the tax. I think it's a little hypocritical when we don't have support by all the roundtable members and nonvoting members (legislators)."

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, through an affiliate group, the Georgia Transportation Alliance, plans to promote passage of the tax.

"This chamber is not one that takes a tax increase very lightly, but when our board and our members sat down and looked at the decrease in federal funds we have received, the backlog of maintenance projects around the state ... and knowing that the state portion of the gas tax continues to decrease, we don't really have a lot of options out there," said president and CEO Chris Clark.

The chamber particularly will work outside metro Atlanta "to run the campaign for regions out there that want to get this thing passed and to partner with our local chambers and business communities in those different regions," he said.

Debbie Dooley of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots said her organization is encouraging tea partyers throughout the state to study project lists to see if they are "fiscally responsible and needed."

She said she believes they shouldn't automatically reject the tax.

Mike Scupin, coordinator for the Lanier Tea Party Patriots in Hall County, has frowned upon state legislators' efforts to move the vote to the general election.

"Some preliminary studies have indicated that the (vote) will have a 6 to 8 percentage point disadvantage if it is voted on in the primary elections and, therefore, most likely fail," he said. "... The excuse being used for moving it is to allow more Georgians to be able to be involved.

"Our position on this is that if (the referendum) is to be moved so more Georgians should be involved, should not all future local and regional (special purpose local option sales tax) referendums be moved to the general election as well?"

Regional events