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A penny for roads, or boondoggle?
Town hall meeting draws backers

The first of three local town hall meetings on the July 31 TSPLOST referendum drew few attendees Thursday, though the 1 percent tax has been at the core of advertising campaigns for more than a month.

Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission transportation director Rachel Hatcher presented an overview of the tax and its local impacts. Click here to see an interactive map of projects slated for Liberty County.

“One mile of new road costs approximately $6 million dollars. That’s a substantial investment … and it is important for us to understand how much it costs to deliver it, but also the benefits of that,” Hatcher said.

The dialogue at the meeting was agreeable, unlike in some other areas.

The Gainesville Times recently reported that angry opponents challenged the constitutionality of the tax and even vilified the presenter during a June 19 Hall County meeting, and a Glynn County Tea Party group has galvanized in opposition.

But at least one Hinesville resident has publicly voiced opposition.

Retiree Joe Gillam, who made his stance known in a June 24 letter to the editor, said he thinks the tax will hit lower income consumers, who tend to use roads less frequently than those with higher incomes, unfairly.

The regional tax would cost each consumer about $112 per year, according to estimates published by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Gillam also pointed out that the state general operations budget receives a cut from the state gasoline sales tax.

According to a 2010 University of Georgia Carlson Vinson Institute of Government study on motor fuel tax, 1 percent of the revenue is diverted to the state general fund.

Instead of placing the 1 percent burden on all consumers, Gillam said the General Assembly should divert that 1 percent back to transportation.

Gillam is also critical of one of the regional projects, the Hinesville bypass, as he estimates about 10 percent of the traffic that backs up on Highway 84 is through-traffic.

“The only thing you’re going to do is rob the businesses that we have along that corridor in the city and county …,” he said. “It would take a little bit of the traffic relief, but you’re still going to have rush-hour traffic.”

During the meeting, McIver made reference to Gillam’s letter and comments on the Hinesville bypass.

“I thought it was ludicrous … drive down 119 and the crossroads and see where the traffic is diverting to avoid coming into Hinesville because of that traffic congestion,” McIver said. “If you had an opportunity to ride that road a couple times a week, you’ll see there is a need for that one cent.”

To be enacted, the referendum must receive 50 percent plus one “yes” votes throughout the region.

If the referendum does not pass, the 2010 legislation mandates that local governments will be required to provide a 30 percent match for any local maintenance and improvement grants. Currently, local governments are required to provide a 10 percent match, Hatcher said.

She left attendees with an analogy she overheard at a recent meeting.

“Think of this as your homeowner’s association. They increase your fees … but you know what it’s going toward,” Hatcher said.

They say ‘Vote yes, and we will build your playground; vote yes and we will make improvements to your neighborhood. It’s you approving those funds, and you know exactly what it’s going toward and it benefits you.”

Proposed regional projects in Liberty

• Hinesville bypass — $12 million: construction from Highway 196 around McIntosh community to Highway 84 in Long County
• Flemington loop — $12.1 million: construction from Highway 84 in Flemington to Fort Stewart Road 47
• Highway 84 — $8 million: access and safety improvements from Spires Drive to Flowers Drive
• Highway 84 — $10.9 million: access and safety improvements from I-95 to Highway 17
• Existing Liberty Transit operations — $9 million: replace government operational fund supplement for 10 years
• 15th Street widening — $ 20.7 million: from E.G. Miles Parkway to Fort Stewart boundary
• Barrington Ferry and Highway 17 — $2.3 million: intersection safety improvements
• Highway 119 and Highway 17 — $6.1 million: intersection safety improvements from railroad to Riceboro Creek
• MidCoast Regional Airport runway/taxiway extension — $4.7 million: runway 6/24 and taxiway C
• Expanded Liberty Transit System capital — $2.5 million: provides funding for future expansions
• Expanded Liberty Transit System operations — $7 million: operations support for future expansion

Ballot wording

“Shall _______ County’s transportation system and the transportation network in this region and the state be improved by providing for a 1 percent special district transportation sales and use tax for the purpose of transportation projects and programs for a period of ten years?” Yes or No.

More meetings

6 p.m. Wednesday, July 11 at Savannah Tech Liberty Campus
6 p.m. Wednesday, July 18 at Dorchester Village Civic Center

What it means

If the July 31 TSPLOST voter referendum passes in the Coastal Region, a 1 percent sales tax will take effect Jan. 1, 2013, to fund transportation projects through completion of the project list or Jan. 1, 2023, whichever date comes first.

Where would the money go?
Revenue remains in the region where it is collected. Taxes collected in Liberty County could only go toward projects within the 10-county Coastal Region:
75% goes toward a regional project list and
25% is distributed to local governments for transportation projects.
Who determined the projects?
A regional transportation roundtable composed of local representatives determined the regional list last year. Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver and Flemington Mayor Sandra Martin served on the committee. Local governments will allocate their share of funds on discretionary transportation projects.

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