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Transportation SPLOST anticipated
Local officials hope for boost for projects
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As the county’s special projects sales tax is set to renew into a new, five-year cycle, state lawmakers are considering whether to add a funding source for transportation projects.
Local officials said the special purpose local option sales tax for transportation would be welcome. TSPLOST could be for local or regional projects, if counties got together and asked residents to approve the 1 percent tax on sales.
They say the current county SPLOST is expected to have collected $28.7 million before its current tax cycle ends next month, and most of that will have been spent on county projects such as expansion of the county jail. Some is yet to be spent, including $1.6 million slotted for work on Liberty Ridge near I-95.
“Even though the cycle ends in March, you can still be expending money out for a while,” said capital improvements program director Tammy Bunting.
In addition to SPLOST funds, the county also receives some federal aid for road projects. An estimated $10 million of the penny sales tax goes toward county roads.
Receipts from the tax is divvied between the county and municipalities, with Hinesville set to receive $3.1 million.
“It’s critical to us to get the capital improvement projects done,” said City Manager Billy Edwards of funds the city gets through SPLOST.
Most of the funds from this five-year cycle went to the Washington and Memorial Drive realignment.
The first two phases of the four-part project will be open by mid-March, according to project manager Matthew Barrow of P.C. Simonton & Associates.
However, phase three cannot begin until more money arrives from the Georgia Department of Transportation, which, due to state budget shortages, could take time. Legislators are looking for funding alternatives during this session.
A solution may lie in proposed the House and Senate bills that would allow counties to levy the new TSPLOST.
“I would say it would be a tax increase if voters want it to be a tax increase,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said during a conference call Jan. 29. “Because they can turn down the two other SPLOST if they so choose or they can agree to all three.”
“We don’t tend to look at Senate bills for another 10 days,” said state rep. Terry Barnard, R-Glennville. “We won’t even see movement on it until sometime next week.”  
During the session, the House and Senate take 30 days to look at their own bills then switch to review the other’s bills during the final 10 days.
But “some sort of funding like TSPLOST is critical to us,” according to Edwards.
“We’ve relied on them [GDOT] heavily to do road projects in the past and they’re broke and we got to look to other means,” he said.
Under the Senate’s proposed bill, counties can go solo or partner with other counties.
According to Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown, the county’s top focus includes the Frank Cochran extension and four-lane expansion, which is in the city.
The city is taking the lead role on the $10.1 million project to widen Frank Cochran into Fort Stewart.
Local government is doing as much as it can without funding, including engineering and preliminary environmental work.
“We don’t enter into a construction contract unless we have all funding secure,” Edwards said.
County sales tax manager Lamar Tillman said SPLOST helps increase revenue and keep property taxes down.
“We would be very limited in our road construction if we had not had SPLOST,” Tillman said.
If the bill passes, Liberty County residents could vote on TSPLOST in 2010 during the next general election.
“We’re having to be very diligent,” Cagle said. “And, as I have said, it is my desire to not raise taxes, but to make the tough choices in cutting the state budget.”
The next county SPLOST, cycle 5, will start in April and last through March 2015. It was approved by voters last year and is expected to bring in more than $30 million.
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