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A 1-cent transportation sales tax shot down by voters in July 2012 could be revived as a topic of discussion later this year — but in a different form.
“Maybe in mid-summer, we’ll be talking about it,” said Richard Higgins, a member of the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
Enabling such a conversation is a bill passed by the Georgia legislature this session that allows — unlike the 2012 version — individual counties to consider putting such a tax vote on the ballot.
The 2012 vote was done by regions, with Hall County lumped in with 12 other counties in the Georgia Mountains region. In the end, nearly 75 percent of residents voted against the measure.
This past session, lawmakers passed House Bill 134, which also allows counties to levy a sales tax of less than 1 percent for road improvements.
“Let’s say the Hall County commissioners want to spend $200 million on some county roads and $200 million wouldn’t take the whole 1-percent sales tax, you could split that to a quarter of a percent or half of a percent,” said Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“I think it’s a good tool for the counties to earmark those funds for those specific projects.”
And Hall County has many projects to consider. Several are in different stages, from right of way acquisition to construction, such as widening Spout Springs Road in South Hall and widening Athens Highway/U.S. 129 in East Hall.
Also planned is a new Interstate 985 interchange at Martin Road in South Hall.
But there are many other projects that aren’t as advanced in their development.
A big project on the horizon is the Sardis Road Connector, which would connect Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 in West Hall to Thompson Bridge Road/Ga. 60 in North Hall.
Dawsonville Highway traffic has been a huge concern among residents, with development particularly cropping up between McEver Road and Ahaluna Drive.
Just last week, Gainesville City Council approved annexation and rezoning to allow for an 860-home older adult community off Ahaluna.
And not waiting for some traffic study to plot out potential routes, a residents group is pushing ahead with a look of its own at a potential roadway crossing North Hall.
The Citizens Advisory Committee in the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Hall area’s main transportation planning agency, voted in April to explore the possibility of what’s been dubbed the North Hall Parkway.
“I’m all in favor of the (transportation special purpose local option sales tax),” said Wayne Stradley, the citizens committee’s chairman.
“I think that would be in the best interest of the people — the Ahaluna crowd, Sardis-Ledan, we could go on and on with the list of all the (road issues),” Stradley said.
The 2012 vote was not popular on many fronts.
One of the biggest concerns was the regional concept, with counties sharing revenue with other counties.
“I think (keeping the tax local) would be a good selling point,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said in an interview last week.
Also, timing was an issue.
In 2012, Union County sole commissioner Lamar Paris, who led a transportation roundtable that helped create the projects list for the vote, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote.
“Despite all the arguments for and against it, the bottom line is these are hard economic times and people aren’t going to vote for a tax increase, no matter how much sense it makes,” Paris said.
When Higgins broached the subject during a public meeting earlier this year on the I-985 interchange, the economy had improved.
The tax “is something to have a good conversation about, because we are growing so fast and there is so much traffic,” he said.
Dunagan said he has chatted briefly with Higgins on the topic.
“It’s something we want to talk about and look at in the future,” he said. “We’ve got traffic problems, and it’s going to take a lot of money to fix them. We’re going to have to get that money somewhere.”