Everything old is new again

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Historically, special local-option sales taxes have been rooted in infrastructure improvements and construction.

When the legislature created the special-purpose local-option sales tax program in the 1980s it was designed largely to help local governments fund road paving and resurfacing, bridge construction and rehabilitation because, generally, those items were too pricey for city and county governments to fund on their own.

Fast-forward 25 years, and SPLOST is still around. But now, legislators have seen fit over the years to expand the scope of the program and allow more uses for the 1 percent sales taxes collected.

But for engineers, SPLOST is still all about infrastructure.

"It's what it was originally all about," Albany City Engineer Bruce Maples said. "That's why people say it's the fairest tax, because people who drive on the road into Dougherty County to the mall to spend money and wear the roads down are the ones who can help repair them through their sales taxes."

But as vital as roads and bridges and sewers are to modern society, they just aren't sexy.

They're not a big library or a RiverQuarium or a planetarium that the public can see and politicians can readily point to as being built with sales taxes.

But this go-'round, when voters head to the polls and vote whether or not to renew the 1 percent sales tax on purchases, they'll see that on the SPLOST VI project list 56 percent of the total projects are for infrastructure and technology.

The most obvious project on the infrastructure list is the replacement of the Broad Avenue bridge. That project will require a collaboration with the Georgia Department of Transportation and federal authorities to orchestrate the demolition of the bridge and construction of a new one.

Shut down since last year when GDOT divers discovered worn footings on the bridge, city drivers have had to bypass the structure that has spanned the Flint River since 1931 when it was constructed and dedicated to veterans of World War I.

Not as obvious on the SPLOST list is the roadway, traffic safety and sidewalk improvements that total the single-largest line item on the ballot at $11.5 million.

That includes widening of Nottingham Way through to Whispering Pines, traffic signal improvements, storm drainage repairs and street work including at the intersection of Old Dawson Road and Doublegate -- where officials intend to put in signals and turn lanes, Maples said.

Around $9 million is on the list for sanitary and storm drainage improvements.

Few realize that the city operates a mostly combined sanitary and storm water sewer system that is aging rapidly.

The price tag to completely separate the two -- which would help ease flooding concerns and conform to federal environmental guidelines -- would cost upwards of $50 million, Maples said.

Until the city can find a way to collect enough funds to get the project under way, officials are trying to repair and maintain the current system, which will include the installation of a polyethylene liner inside some of the older pipes to prevent leaks and root intrusion.

More than $3.6 million is on the list for alley paving throughout the city, while another $3.6 million has been dedicated strictly to road resurfacing, railroad crossing improvements and street lights.

The landfill would get $1 million for help creating new cells for vertical expansion, which is expected to increase the landfill's life expectancy to 50 years, the judicial building would get $960,000 for facility improvements, energy conservation and replacement of an emergency generator.

The central square complex is slated to get $860,000 to replace the roof, for parking deck improvements and maintenance, and energy conservation, while $500,000 is earmarked for maintenance and repair of existing city buildings.

Rounding out the list, $250,000 has been allocated for permanent bathrooms at the Ray Charles Plaza and $1.5 million to upgrade software, operating systems and expanding electronic storage.