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TIA referendum support top seed for county groups
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ST. SIMONS ISLAND — After entity updates and presentations on education, military issues, health and the Transportation Investment Act referendum, participants at the Liberty County-wide Planning Workshop identified priority issues Thursday.

Short term, passage of the Transportation Investment Act referendum topped the list, followed by beautification and aesthetics and retail development.

Participants identified creating a civic center or meeting space, building the community’s image so senior management and military leaders will choose to live in Liberty County and health care as long-term priorities.

With the issues identified, participants split into three work groups. Each of the three Fanning Institute facilitators led discussions on a short-term and a long-term priority and helped the group refine the issues and identify possible solutions.

On Friday, the entire group reconvened to address the issues and brainstorm ways to make progress on the resolutions. In the coming editions, the Courier will present a breakdown of the issues and proposed solutions.

Transportation Investment Act referendum

On July 31, voters will weigh in on a 1-percent sales tax referendum that by now has been called many names. Some may know it as TSPLOST, others as TIA, and some are even calling it ROST for regional option sales tax.

While leading discussion on the issue, facilitator Skip Teaster said the ever-changing name for the tax likely is a source of confusion to voters.

To be enacted in the 10-county Coastal Region, the tax must receive 50 percent plus one vote region-wide. If it passes at the polls, 75 percent of the revenue generated from the tax would go toward a list of previously determined construction projects with regional impact.

The remaining 25 percent would be distributed to county and municipal governments within the region according to a formula that factors in population and center-line road mileage.

The taxing period would begin January 2013 and would last either 10 years or until the projected amount of revenue is earned.

Liberty County governments might expect between $26 million and $28 million just from the local portion. The county stands to benefit from 12 regional projects —an estimated $175 million — including improvements on Highway 84 and a Hinesville bypass.

In a general session Thursday morning, state Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, gave a passionate presentation in favor of the tax, which he lauded as a local collaborative effort.

“The question I’m asked is, ‘How are you guys going to pass a 1-cent tax increase in this kind of political environment and in this kind of economy?’” he said. “We’re going to do it because we’re not just going to talk about spending money for transportation; we’re going to talk about jobs, safer roads, local control of our projects.”

Keen is part of a group working with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce on its Connect Georgia campaign in support of the tax.

Because governments cannot legally expend money to support a tax increase, leaders and officials are not able to champion the cause in their official capacities or with governmental funds. To overcome this barrier, the state and local chambers of commerce have elected to work as the marketing arm for the tax.

Leah Poole, CEO of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and the Liberty County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her organization is on board to promote the tax, but that it does not have the funds it needs to fully implement the $16,000 campaign.  

The campaign includes a three-month media blitz with radio, newspaper and billboard advertisements and circulation of information, Poole said. Concurrently, a regional Connect Georgia campaign will focus on Glynn and Chatham counties, where there are larger populations and more opposition.

In his speech, Keen acknowledged that there is galvanizing opposition to the tax — especially in the form of the Tea Party — and that the best way to overcome the opposition is to inform voters.

“The project list was developed locally; all of the projects are local … that is about as close to, all the people that are screaming, you know, ‘We want smaller government, we want local control,’ — you’ve got it,” Keen said.

Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards and Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown both previously have reported that without the tax, many projects in the planning stages will not have the funding to be completed, and participants hammered that point home in discussions.

They also addressed the possibility of teaming with area industries to promote the tax because so many of the companies rely on transportation to ship and receive their materials and products.

They also discussed the fact that if the tax does not pass in the region, local governments still will be obligated to match state funds previously awarded by the Georgia Department of Transportation. In the Coastal Region, GDOT is supplementing certain projects with $375 million in state transportation funds.

On Friday, the facilitators helped participants identify the following action plan:

• People who are responsible: Leah Poole, CEO of Liberty County Chamber of Commerce

• Timetable: Raise funds by April 30, with campaign under way in May, June and July leading up to July 31 election

• Where budgets might come from: individuals and businesses with a vested interest in growth and transportation

• Partners: Teaster identified partners as those willing to physically get involved and help Poole establish connections to stakeholders who can spread the message

• Obstacles: False statements, talking counter-points, presenting factual arguments, creating feelings to garner support and explaining that even though it is an additional tax, it will benefit the county

First steps:

1. Raise funds for campaign by April 30

2. Community leaders open doors to connect Poole to other industries for support

3. Establish talking points so all are on the same page

4. Use speakers on civic and church circuits to spread information

For more on the short-term goals of beautification and retail development and the long-term issues, see the Courier’s continued coverage in coming editions.

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