Local News

7/17/2012

Paving roads for others is good, official says

By GORDON JACKSON

The Brunswick News

Glynn County will contribute more in sales tax revenue to other counties than it receives for its own transportation projects if voters in the 10-county region that includes Brunswick and the Golden Isles approve the state's Transportation Investment Act referendum July 31.

Despite being a so-called "donor county," rejecting the tax could be a "recipe for big problems in the future," Todd Long, deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Monday on St. Simons Island.

Donor counties will still benefit from projects throughout the region, he said at a breakfast meeting of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Isles Association of Realtors at Epworth by the Sea.

"You visit places in the region," he said. "You have to think beyond your county," Long said of the proposed 1 percent sales tax that is often referred to by its original name, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Georgia's state roads are ranked No. 1 in the nation, but that's not the case for county and dirt roads, he said. And the state is not alone when it comes to a road system in jeopardy. Keeping up with state transportation needs and highway maintenance also is a challenge as costs go up and revenue goes down.

"Every state is facing the same issue," Long said. "You don't want to be on the bottom of the barrel for transportation funding."

Each of the 12 regions in the state stands on its own when it comes to the tax, Long said. If a region rejects the tax and does not collect it, it may be at a disadvantage in competing for new businesses if surrounding regions approve the tax.

Long said rural counties will get more funding than they contribute for projects, but an entire region will benefit from the jobs that are created and improved highway connections.

Doug Callaway, president of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, also spoke at the meeting. He said the referendum is about more jobs, safer roads and local control of projects.

"We're in trouble when it comes to transportation funding," he said. "The transportation system is running out of money."

TSPLOST will give Georgia an advantage over other states because none of them has a plan to make up for shortfalls in funding from the state and federal governments because not as much gas tax revenue is generated from newer cars that get better mileage.

"Georgia is the only state that has the ability to do something about the lagging economy," he said.

If the referendum is approved, it will create 43,000 new jobs in the region, Callaway said. "Some regions will pass this, some won't," he said. "I'm telling everyone to vote 'yes.'"

Glynn County is in a region with nine other coastal counties - McIntosh, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Bulloch, Bryan, Liberty, Long and Screven - for voting and projects. A simple majority in all 10 coastal counties is needed to pass the tax for the entire region.

No county can opt out of paying the tax if it is approved in its region, even if its residents vote against it.

Supporters of the tax estimate it will generate $3.15 million annually for Glynn County and $650,000 for Brunswick during the 10 years it is collected. Passage would increase the sales tax in Glynn County to 7 percent from 6 percent.

Opponents contend that some projects to be funded from the tax are unnecessary, employment estimates are inflated and it doesn't make sense for a county to have to transfer out more of the revenue it collects than it retains for itself.