Officials express sales tax concerns

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany City Commissioners peppered a representative of the Georgia Department of Transportation with questions concerning a proposed one percent regional sales tax that would fund transportation projects in Southwest Georgia for the next 10 years.

GDOT Planner Radney Simpson was in Albany Tuesday to update the commission on HB 277, but Simpson ended up fielding a barrage of questions from commissioners concerned about what Albany Mayor Willie Adams called the state's "punitive stance," against communities who don't embrace the new tax.

The plan, which will be voted on in November 2012, will create 12 regional districts across the state comprised of various cities and counties which will assess a one percent sales tax among the various members of the district which will go to fund transportation projects within the district.

The "punitive stance," referred to by Adams, is in regard to the development of a project list by a roundtable consisting of each county's chairman and one mayor from a city within each county in the district.

If the roundtable fails to develop a project list for voters to consider, the GDOT will declare the district gridlocked and each government will have to pay a 50 percent local match on each project approved by the DOT during the next 10 years.

If the list is approved by the roundtable, that 50 percent match is reduced to 30 percent, regardless to whether the referendum passes in each county.

If the list is approved by the roundtable and approved by a majority of the voters in the 14-county district, then local governments will only have to provide a 10 percent match on projects.

"It sounds like there is some arm twisting going on here," Adams said.

Commissioners also had questions about ensuring Albany and Dougherty County's ability to retain a leadership role since most of the sales tax that will be generated through the program will come from sales in Dougherty County.

The roundtables are to be led by an executive committee consisting of roundtable members elected by a majority of other roundtable meetings.

Some on the commission are concerned that some of the smaller counties could conspire to support additional representatives and have enough voting power to keep the Albany-Dougherty delegation from having a seat at the executive committee table.

Commissioners also expressed concerns that adding another tax on people in southwest Georgia could undermine current local sales tax initiatives especially if they are set to occur at the same time as the transportation sales tax referendum.

Dan Bolinger, executive Director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, said that there was at least one county whose SPLOST referendum would likely be on the same ballot as the November 2012 transportation sales tax referendum and that those concerns are working to be addressed.

If it passes, state economists estimate that the regional sales tax will generate $43 to $45 million in 2013, with revenues climbing each year after and topping out at around $63 million in 2023 when it would expire.

Formula-based, discretionary funding would flow into Albany and Dougherty County based on a formula that incorporates population and road mileage, Simpson said. Of the 25 percent that would be dedicated for discretionary spending in the district, Albany and Dougherty County would receive 14 percent, he said.

HB 277 is designed to take the burden off of GDOT's major revenue source -- the motor fuel tax -- and put it in the hands of local government.