Bibb commissioners to discuss exploring new T-SPLOST referendum

pramati@macon.comDecember 26, 2013 

Bibb County commissioners will discuss a resolution Friday that will ask state legislators to allow individual counties to seek voter approval for a local one penny transportation tax.

Bibb County Chairman Sam Hart said several counties across the state are trying to approve similar resolutions.

“It’s still going to be up to the governor,” Hart said. “There’s some interest and momentum to get the T-SPLOST back on. My understanding is that there’s going to be a push this (next) year (in the Legislature).”

In July 2012, midstate voters in the district that includes Bibb and Houston counties defeated the transportation referendum by a wide margin. Only three of the 11 counties in the region -- Bibb, Twiggs and Wilkinson -- voted narrowly in favor of the measure. Of the 12 regions across the state, just three approved the special purpose local option sales tax for transportation, commonly referred to as T-SPLOST.

Rejecting the vote meant that the T-SPLOST couldn’t be brought back to voters for at least two years.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said Thursday he has seen a lot of movement from counties to try to bring back the referendum as a way to fund various road projects.

The difference this time would be that the counties themselves come up with the projects and then submit them to the state before getting voter approval. Peake said that would mean counties would work together on smaller regional projects.

“I think it would have to be a concerted effort between the counties,” Peake said. “There are a couple of big projects that make sense for our region. This time, it would have to be a bottom-up effort with the counties leading the charge instead of a top-down effort with the state leading the charge.”

Peake said he’s heard a lot of buzz from city, county and state legislators about bringing the T-SPLOST back up for a vote.

“Quite frankly, it’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s harder to do it on a county-by-county basis, but a couple of counties working together could get it done. I think the Legislature is open to it. ... I think there is merit to it.”

Chris Floore, spokesman for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, said Reichert plans to explore the possibility of a new T-SPLOST with the new Macon-Bibb County Commission once he is sworn in as mayor of the consolidated government next week. Floore said it also will be necessary for the new government to meet with surrounding counties about the issue.

“Certainly, it’s something we know we want to see because we need a lot of funding for these transportation projects,” Floore said. “(Reichert) wants to see what the interest is.”

Had the 2012 T-SPLOST been approved, it would have brought in a projected $876 million to the region over a 10-year period. Instead, counties need to come up with alternative funding if they want to complete any projects that were proposed and pay a higher 30 percent match to road projects completed with the state Department of Transportation instead of the 10 percent match they would have paid if the T-SPLOST had passed.

Bibb County voters approved the 2012 referendum by 1,375 votes out of more than 33,000 cast. But Houston County overwhelmingly voted against it, 11,474 to 4,330.

Houston County Chairman Tommy Stalnaker, who opposed the T-SPLOST in 2012, said at the time that voters didn’t want a tax increase and that the proposed projects eventually will get done.

Peake said he was “perplexed” why Houston County leaders were against the measure two years ago.

“We’ve got to get back to thinking regionally,” Peake said. “If a new road brings more jobs to the region, we’ve got to think about that. We’re all close enough that we have to push the regional concept.”

Other items on the agenda of Friday’s meeting include a discussion of the bids received for the new Macon-Bibb County Animal Welfare shelter and the presentation of a retirement resolution for Bibb County Superior Court Chief Judge S. Phillip Brown.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the commission meeting room on the fourth floor of the courthouse.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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