Local

Transportation sales tax proposal back on the ballot next spring

The Houston County Commission approved a contract last year to widen this stretch of U.S. 41 between Watson and Osigian boulevards. The T-SPLOST referendum in 2018 includes plans to widen Watson Boulevard from U.S. 41 to Carl Vinson Parkway.
The Houston County Commission approved a contract last year to widen this stretch of U.S. 41 between Watson and Osigian boulevards. The T-SPLOST referendum in 2018 includes plans to widen Watson Boulevard from U.S. 41 to Carl Vinson Parkway. wcrenshaw@macon.com

Five years after voters rejected a proposed sales tax for transportation projects, midstate officials are gearing up for another bid.

In the coming weeks, government representatives will start touting the benefits of a new transportation sales tax that could spur economic development and relieve congestion.

The transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, referendum will be on the May 22 ballot as part of the general election primary throughout an 11-county region. The 1 percent sales tax is projected to generate about $637 million in revenue over a 10-year period, according to the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

If voters give the green light, collections would begin in the fall of 2018. The region includes: Macon-Bibb, Houston, Monroe, Jones, Crawford, Putnam, Twiggs, Peach, Baldwin, Wilkinson and Pulaski counties.

Officials who have served on a T-SPLOST roundtable committee have been cognizant of taking a regional approach on many of the projects, ones that could lead to more industrial prospects, Macon-BIbb County Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said.

"I think we’re talking about increased prosperity for the region and attracting even more businesses like Irving (Consumer Products) and Amazon of late," Schlesinger said. "We really need to make our infrastructure, particularly our roads in terms of transportation of goods, as attractive as possible."

The roundtable committee Schlesinger serves on is made up of two government officials from each of the 11 counties. Five members were elected to serve on an executive committee that helped put together a list of 55 projects that the full roundtable approved in recent days.

How the money works

Seventy-five percent of the transportation sales tax proceeds would be used to pay for the current list of projects. The remaining 25 percent, roughly $159 million, would be divided up by local governments for officials there to decide how best to use on transportation investments, said Laura Mathis, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

Some of the highest estimated cost projects are:

  • Macon-Bibb County: $30 million for a Sardis Church Road extension to Interstate 16.;
  • Houston County: a $36.7 million widening of U.S. 41/Ga. 11 from Ga. 96 to Ga. 247;
  • Baldwin County: $11 million Log Cabin Road widening;
  • Crawford County: $6 million for passing lanes on U.S. 80 east;
  • Jones County: $6 million for Henderson Road resurfacing.

There's been a different vibe in this year's T-SPLOST roundtable meetings compared to 2012 when the measure failed to pass, Mathis said.

At that time, the majority of voters in Houston, Putnam, Monroe and Twiggs counties opposed the measures. But with local leaders having more flexibility this year because the proposal was not mandated by state law, the discussions moved at a pace in which the government representatives felt comfortable, Mathis said.

"I think they really focused on having really good, solid projects on the list," she said. "(There was a) collaborative, cooperative understanding of the needs of communities being different, but also being sure that each community has something that fits them."

River Valley T-SPLOST

One of the regions that did pass the T-SPLOST referendum in 2012 was the 16-county area that includes Columbus-Muscogee County.

The T-SPLOST revenues over the first five years have come in about 17 percent lower than projected, but each of the 23 projects on the initial list will be completed, said Patti Cullen, executive director of the River Valley Regional Commission.

Thus far, four road projects from the list, including a $30-million widening of U.S. 27, have been finished, and construction is underway on eight other ones, Cullen said.

"I definitely think it's been a success," Cullen said. "Even though we had counties that didn't have a project (on the list), because they were able to get 25 percent, they were able to resurface roads in their counties and get some equipment they needed."

At a recent Macon-Bibb County Commission meeting, Commissioner Al Tillman warned officials that they must do a better job of communicating the benefits of the tax to the public. In 2012, there was pushback from the NAACP, among others, about the tax that may have led to its downfall, he said.

Stanley Dunlap, 478-744-4623











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