Regional sales tax process moving forward, despite Houston opposition

Traffic moves Friday along Bass Road as it approaches the intersection of Zebulon and Foster roads in Macon.
Traffic moves Friday along Bass Road as it approaches the intersection of Zebulon and Foster roads in Macon. bcabell@macon.com

Despite opposition from a key county, the process of calling for a new regional 1-percent sales tax referendum to fund road projects is moving forward.

The Houston County Commission last week voted to oppose a referendum on a transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, but six of the 11 counties in the region have voted to support it.

Baldwin, Jones, Macon-Bibb, Crawford, Pulaski and Wilkinson counties have approved resolutions favoring a referendum. Only Houston, Putnam and Twiggs have passed resolutions in opposition, while Peach and Monroe counties have not weighed in.

“The resolutions that have been passed so far say ‘start the process,’” said Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. “It is not a call for a referendum.”

Mathis said the Regional Commission is not promoting a referendum but is asking counties to weigh in to determine whether there is enough support to move forward.

With a majority of counties in favor, the process will continue, Mathis said, but that doesn’t mean a referendum will be held.

The next step will be a roundtable meeting, which will be made up of the county commission chairman from each county, plus the mayor of a city in each county. The mayor would be chosen by all of the mayors in the county.

The roundtable could get together and immediately decide there isn’t enough public support for the tax and vote not to hold a referendum, Mathis said. But if a majority of the roundtable group votes to move forward, that would touch off an extended process that would include developing a list of proposed projects.

It wouldn’t have to be the same list that was used in the T-SPLOST referendum that was soundly defeated in 2012 in the region, but that list likely would be a starting point to speed up the process.

After a project list is completed and pubic hearings held, the roundtable would then vote on whether to call a referendum.

“We’ve got a long way to go to call for a referendum,” Mathis said.

Most other regions in the state also defeated the 2012 T-SPLOST, but the Transportation Funding Act approved this year by the General Assembly offered those regions a chance to reconsider.

Exactly when a referendum might be held is undecided, but one possibility is the November presidential election next year, which would bring an entirely different dynamic to the vote.

The process is mostly the same this time as in 2012, with one important difference. In 2012 the state mandated that each region have a referendum, but this time the counties get to decide whether to put the question before voters.

Peach County Commission Chairman Melvin Walker said his county commission will consider the resolution Tuesday, and he thinks it will pass.

“It’s not everything that I think we need and I don’t 100 percent agree with the way it’s put together, but it makes sense,” he said. “We need to do something for transportation.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.