Road tax means millions for Morgan
By Michael Prochaska
An additional one-cent sales tax for Morgan and surrounding Northeast Georgia counties could mean property tax relief for Morgan County residents.
The proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) will either be accepted or rejected by voters of the 12 counties that make up the Northeast region come July 31.
The TSPLOST referendum on the General Primary specifies that the tax would go into effect for 10 years, four more years of taxation than the recently passed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
This will bring Morgan County’s sales tax rate up to eight percent from seven percent.
According to Douglas Callaway, executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, local governments that passed SPLOST have an advantage - not disadvantage -in attempting to increase tax rates once more on household because residents have seen the outcome of projects funded by sales tax.
“This really isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue, conservative or liberal issue,” he said. “It’s not even a left or right issue. It’s a right or wrong issue.”
Callaway and representatives from advocacy group Connect Georgia gave a presentation and answered questions Monday night at Bonners Triple B Restaurant in Buckhead.
“[TSPLOST] will help turn the economy around,” Callaway said. “Every billion dollars invested in transportation equals about 28,000 jobs.”
If each of Georgia’s 12 regions vote in favor of the regional transportation referendum, total tax revenue projections equal about $19 billion, he said.
Morgan County will see two new road projects if TSPLOST passes. The first is the widening of US 441 from the Putnam County line to CR 121 Pierce Dairy Rd. The other is a repaving of Stanton Springs where Baxter International is locating.
Counties like Athens-Clarke, Jackson and Barrow have anywhere between 10 and 20 projects on their wish list, but what appeals to Morgan County officials is that while 75 percent of the revenue is to be used on the specific project list determined last October by a roundtable of 24 mayors and county commissioners, 25 percent can be used on local transportation projects selected by city and county municipalities
In other words, Morgan County will see about $1.11 million in discretionary spending for the county’s roads and bridges department.
It could be used for personnel, heavy equipment or paving to name a few uses, according to County Manager Michael Lamar.
That amount equates close to the budget the roads and bridges department currently operates under, Lamar said.
County Commissioners are in agreement to consider using between 50 to 65 percent of the discretionary funds to offset next year’s projected millage rate increase.
“We need this revenue to help our taxpayers in this county,” said Commissioner Chair Ellen Warren at a July 3 Board of Commissioners meeting.
“An influx of money like this on a yearly basis will allow them to be able to move the money that they already have allocated for transportation to other things in their budget,” explained Connect Georgia Regional Director Tim Davis. “They can use this money to subsidize where they moved it. And in doing that, they may be able to lower those millage rates.”
County officials hope to alleviate property tax payers by one mill in Fiscal Year 2014.
Currently, the county receives about $692,000 for each mill on the tax rate, though that number is down from $785,000 the previous year, Lamar said.
“If this doesn’t pass, there’s no plan B,” Warren said of keeping the millage rate down.
Morgan County’s stake in TSPLOST, however, is dependent not only on registered voters inside the county but also those outside the county. According to the Morgan County Elections and Registration Office, the county has between 11,105 and 11,114 registered voters for this upcoming election. Other counties have a larger say in whether TSPLOST will past. Athens-Clarke County, for example, has about 66,000 registered voters according to its Board of Elections.
“Every vote will make a difference,” Davis said. “We’re anticipating this being decided by a couple hundred votes in a lot of these regions.”
If TSPLOST does not pass, by law the amount local municipalities are required to front for state-funded road projects will triple from 10 percent to 30 percent.
In districts where the referendum passes, the Department of Transportation will be responsible for project delivery.
Exemptions from the tax include motor fuel, jet fuel, off-road fuel for heavy-duty, farm, or agricultural equipment and building and construction materials.
Printed in the July 12, 2012 edition