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Officials call for vote on T-SPLOST

ALBANY, Ga. — The mayors and county commission chairs of a large swath of Southwest Georgia communities have voted unanimously to call for a public vote on whether the region should levy a new 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects.

The Southwest Georgia Region becomes the sixth region of the 12 throughout the state to approve the call for a referendum on the matter.

Designed as an overhaul to the state’s fuel tax system, the measure must be approved by a majority of the voters in Southwest Georgia before it will go into effect, Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff “Bodine” Sinyard said.

“Getting this thing to the voters is important,” Sinyard said. “I’ve always said, on this issue and others, that the people should always have a final say in how they are governed.”

If approved by the voters, the tax will be levied for the next 10 years and is expected to generate more than $530 million for regional transportation projects throughout the region.

Sinyard said that the group worked hard to make sure that most of the cities and counties who brought projects to the table were well represented and got significant improvements included on the list of projects to be funded by the measure.

“We strived to make sure that the communities throughout the region had the projects on the list that put them in the best possible position to grow,” Sinyard said.

The only county in the group without a project listed is Miller County.

While the T-SPLOST process has gone smoothly in the Southwest Georgia region, in other areas of the state, officials are actively lobbying against it, especially in areas near metro Atlanta.

In Kennesaw, for instance, T-SPLOST has become an argument at the center of a heated mayoral race between the incumbent, Mark Matthews, and his challenger, former mayor Leonard Church.

One of the biggest issues for Cobb County voters is whether the county’s biggest single project on the list — a light rail line running from midtown to Cumberland with an initial price tag of around $865 million — is enough of a carrot to coax voters to approve the regional bill.

“The working men and women of this city and county do not want or need an extra tax for 10 years,” Church told the Marietta Daily Journal. “I plan to vote against the T-SPLOST.”

And Church isn’t alone in the sprawling Atlanta metro county.

In a recent forum of prospective Republican candidates vying to replace former state representative Bobby Franklin, R-East Cobb, all 10 candidates said they wouldn’t support the measure and would actively work to kill it.

When asked why there hasn’t been such acrimony in Southwest Georgia about T-SPLOST, Sinyard said that a lot of the feelings in the metro Atlanta stem from a belief that the inner core of the Atlanta region — Fulton and Dekalb counties — are dictating what the other counties can do with their funding.

“We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve managed to work with all of our members so that they largely will get what they have asked for and we don’t have the same kinds of issues, like the problems with MARTA and the like, that those metro counties are dealing with,” Sinyard said.