In the voting booth on Tuesday, local voters will have to decide if they are willing to spend another penny in sales tax to finance the road and bridge work that both residents and local elected officials agree is sorely needed.
The Georgia State Legislature this year, gave counties the opportunity to implement a transportation special purpose local option sales tax for use on road and bridge work and purchases of equipment for that purpose and the Haralson County Commission jumped on the idea.
At a meeting in August, with the support of local municipal governments, the commissioners unanimously approved adding the referendum to the Nov. 7 ballot.
The proposed T-SPLOST would add 1 percent more to most purchases at county stores — gasoline is exempted — bringing the total sales tax paid in the county to 8 percent.
Haralson County resident Benny Tolbert was upset about the idea of a T-SPLOST. He said his county property tax bill increased $435.89 this year and he believes enough is enough.
“I think our taxes are already high enough and too high,” Tolbert said. “We ought to have enough in our budget and with the funds they get from the state.”
Local government officials though say it is needed because the county and cities get so few dollars to pave roads.
The county has roughly 400 miles of paved road to maintain, said County Chairman Allen Poole.
It receives about $450,000 a year from the state for paving projects to which it is expected to add approximately another $200,000.
That covers the cost of paving about six miles of road each year, Poole estimated.
“For years, we have fallen behind on road maintenance,” he said. “This is a way for us to alleviate some of the pressures off of property owners.”
Haralson County municipalities will also get a piece of the T-SPLOST pie. Representatives of the local municipalities and the commissioners met to discuss how to distribute the estimated $12 million proceeds of the sales tax and decided to use population as the measure. That means the county would receive 61.75 percent; Bremen, 21.45 percent; Tallapoosa 11.01 percent; Buchanan 3.84 percent; Waco,1.79 percent; and Temple,.16 percent.
Local elected officials put together project lists that they hope to complete with the projected proceeds of $12 million over five years.
The city of Tallapoosa for instance hopes to use its estimated proceeds of $337,000 a year to purchase equipment for road upkeep and maintenance and has a Helton Howland’s driveway and parking lot, as well as repave and/or make improvements to a number of city roads including West Atlanta, Broad, Stone Mountain streets, Arbacoochee, Golf Course, Cedartown, Providence Church, McDonald, Steadman and Ivy Pope roads and Magnolia Drive.
At their October meeting, the Tallapoosa council members discussed the T-SPLOST. City Manager Philip Eidson said the city receives about $70,000 a year from the state for paving. With the city’s match that’s enough to pave about 1 mile a year.
“At the rate we’re going, we’ll never get all the streets resurfaced,” Eidson said. “It’s very important not only resurfacing but other things we can do with it, sidewalks and upgrades.”
The city has several roads that are difficult to pave because they are more than a mile long, said Patrick Clarey. If those are paved there’s no more money for anything else in the district, he said.
Eidson said because the T-SPLOST is structured as a sales tax people will “only be paying their fair share.”
But taxes are controversial, and a T-SPLOST is no exception. Bremen resident Denny Chasteen said in the County Commission’s rush to get it on the November ballot, commissioners haven’t discussed how best to address road issues and disburse the money. They’ve set priorities based only on commissioners’ thoughts, he said, instead of doing the research needed to spend the money efficiently.
“They’re throwing money at a problem without a real plan,” Chasteen said.
For instance, Chasteen believes Waco, with it’s Interstate 20 access and West Georgia Technical College traffic, should receive a bigger share of the tax, he said. Waco would receive a projected $214,800 over the five years of the T-SPLOST.
“A five-year tax deserves a five-year road plan,” Chasteen said.
If approved, the T-SPLOST will go into effect in April 2018, according to Poole.