On Tuesday, voters will decide the fate of one of the most contentious issues to appear on a ballot, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or TSPLOST.
The T-SPLOST would be a brand new sales tax and would add one cent to the current 7-cent rate for 10 years, beginning in January 2013. The Georgia General Assembly passed the initiative under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, creating 12 special tax districts based on Regional Commission boundaries.
Lowndes is one of 18 counties in the Southern Georgia district, which also includes 45 municipalities.
Each of the 63 entities would receive funding under TSPLOST, according to Corey Hull, Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordinator.
In order to address the many lingering questions about TSPLOST so that voters may make an informed decision on July 31, the Times asked Hull to provide answers to the questions posed most frequently in the community.
Q: What happens if Lowndes doesn’t pass it, but the other counties do, will TSPLOST still pass?
A: Yes. It is not decided on county lines. If the referendum receives 50 percent-plus one of the combined popular vote district-wide, it will pass.
Q: What counties are in the Southern Georgia district?
A: Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Tift, Turner and Ware.
SIDENOTE FROM THE TIMES:
The total number of registered voters in the 18 county district is 184,045, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website. Of those voters, Lowndes represents 25 percent, Tift has 11 percent, Coffee has 10 percent and Ware has 9 percent, for a combined 45 percent in the four most populous counties in the district. The voting is weighted to give the smaller counties as much if not more voting strength.
Q: If TSPLOST passes, will any of the funds leave the district to fund projects in Atlanta and elsewhere in the state?
A: No. The law is clear. The money raised here, stays here. 100 percent of the tax collected in each district stays in that district and pays only for projects in that district.
Q: How would the money collected be distributed among the 63 counties and municipalities?
A: The Georgia State Finance Investment Commission, the state’s financial arm, would hold the funds in trust, taking no administrative fees. Even with projects overseen by the Georgia Department of Transportation, the individual cities and counties apply for reimbursement, not the GDOT.
Q: What are the penalties for districts who do not pass the TSPLOST?
A: Local governments currently receive state funds under Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG). If the region votes no, the local governments will have to pay 30 percent in matching funds rather than the 10 percent now, and the 10 percent is also often waived. Lowndes County and Valdosta each receive around $600,000 each year under the LMIG.
Q: What would the money collected from TSPLOST fund and how much is expected to be raised in the 10-year time period?
A: According to information Hull provided, the total revenue projected is $670,985,459, or $671 million over the 10 year period. Of that, Lowndes County would receive $107,750,618; Dasher, $310,084; Hahira, $526,799; Lake Park, $197,479; Remerton, $133,293; and Valdosta, $53,778,280. The combined total returned to Lowndes County would be $161,558,898 or approximately 24 percent of the total.
Q: Who determines the projects and do they all have to be done just because they are on the list?
A: Each district formed a Roundtable of elected officials who determined the project list, and yes, if TSPLOST passes, all projects on that list have to be funded.
Q: How long would it be before Lowndes County would receive funds?
A: The county would receive funds right away. According to the lists Hull provided, Lowndes County would receive 21 percent of its funds in 2013-15; 44 percent in 2016-19; and 35 percent in 2020-22. The first projects to be funded are the St. Augustine Road overpass, 5 Points intersection improvements, Forrest Street widening, Old Clyattville Road widening, St. Augustine at Norman intersection improvements, St. Augustine at Gornto intersection improvements, and U.S. 41 N. widening from N. Valdosta Road to Union Road.
Q: Lowndes County turned down GDOT funds to four-lane Highway 41 N., largely based on community complaints, and yet the project is back on this list. Considering that Scruggs Concrete is located at the intersection of Union Road and U.S. 41, did that have anything to do with this project being added to this list?
A: Lowndes County relooked at the project, and it is based on future projections. I can’t say what part, if any, that Scruggs played in this. It was based on future commercial developments anticipated on that stretch of highway plus the traffic from the school, the businesses and the subdivisions located off it.
Hull added that the plans for that specific project include bike lanes, sidewalks, and $1.2 million designated for right of way acquisition.
Q: How is the TSPLOST money allocated?
A: The money collected will go into two pots, with 75 percent going into the project pot and 25 percent into a discretionary pot to be disbursed to the counties and municipalities for transportation funding.
Q: If TSPLOST doesn’t pass, will there be no funding available anymore for local governments?
A: Lowndes County currently receives around $20 million annually from state and federal funds and that money isn’t going away.
Q: Why the sudden need for more money for transportation?
A: If you’ve watched the news lately, you’ll know that the country’s infrastructure is outdated and needs repair. Taxes collected from motor fuels has been steadily declining, so the question becomes how to fund transportation projects in the future and stay globally competitive.
Q: Is GDOT broke?
A: No, but currently one third of GDOT’s revenues go to pay debt service on bonds for previous projects. In other states, the general fund pays the bond debt but Georgia doesn’t.
TSPLOST Project List for Lowndes County
• Construction of St. Augustine Road Overpass
• Country Club Drive widening, Jerry Jones Road to N. Valdosta Rd.
• Jerry Jones Road Improvements
• Five Points intersection in Valdosta improvements
• Forrest Street widening, Park Ave. to Bemiss Road
• Georgia and Florida Railway, Valdosta to Willacoochee Rehabilitation
• I-75 at Lake Park/ Bellville Road Interchange Improvements, Exit 2
• I-75 at SR 31 Interchange Imterchange replacement- Exit 11
• Lake Park Bellville Road widening and realignment project
• Oak St. widening, Five Points to Cherry Creek Road
• Old Clyattville Road widening from I-75 to Ousley Road
• Old US 41 N. widening from N. Valdosta Road to Union Road
• St. Augustine at Norman intersection improvements
• St. Augustine at Gornto Road intersection improvements
Visit www.dot.ga.gov/transportationreferendum to see all project lists.