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TSPLOST could bring $14.9 million to Lamar

Local officials held their first town hall meeting about the upcoming July 31 Transportation SPLOST vote, explaining how an estimated $14.9 million in discretionary funds would come to Lamar County if the 10-county vote goes in favor of the new one cent on the dollar tax. Information at the April 19 meeting showed some $947 million is expected region-wide. The referendum must receive a 51% majority vote region-wide to pass. It could pass in some counties and not in others and still reach that 51% majority. If the projected funds are reached before 10 years are up, the tax would stop at that point. Otherwise, it will continue until the 10 years is over. If approved, the money would be split between the cities and county along existing SPLOST percentages. In all, Lamar would put $21,075,175 toward the four-laning of Highway 36, which averages 8,000 vehicles a day, from I-75 to Thomaston with another $15 million in federal money being loaded into the pot for that program. That makes up 75% of Lamar’s funds, matched with those of Upson County. Lamar and its cities would get $14.9 million, or 25%, in discretionary funds for local projects over the 10-year life of the tax. The percentage is based on population and road miles. ’We’d be able to spend that on local projects of our own choosing,’ said county manager Bob Zellner. The county would get an estimated $12,678,835 for projects like repaving and widening Van Buren and Yatesville roads and repaving Zebulon, Crawford and Johnstonville roads. ’These are roads all over the county,’ he said. ‘People know where they’re dodging the potholes.’ Zellner broke that down to projected funds of $1,007,189 for Van Buren Road, $624,766 for Yatesville Road, $478,711 for Zebulon Road, $1,005,886 for Crawford Road and $1,048,561 for Johnstonville Road, totaling $4,115,113. That list is incomplete and the costs cited at the meeting were only estimates. Barnesville would get $1,826,227; Milner would get some $344,448 and Aldora would receive $59,254 for their own projects, which have not been announced. ’We’d get 90% of the money for each of these projects and have to provide a 10% match if T-SPLOST passes,’ Zellner said. ‘If the tax doesn’t pass overall we’d have to match 30%.’ The transportation committee panel was made up of Barnesville Mayor Peter Banks, IDA director Missy Kendrick and commissioner Charles Glass, taking the seat of chairman Jay Matthews, who is on the regional committee. Banks noted the exact route of the four-lane has not been set and some money would go to planning and engineering the route and buying rights of way. He listed several studies that need to be done to get the federal funds. ’The work should be done within the 10 years,’ he said. ‘Under the law, once T-SPLOST passes, the Department of Transportation is required to finish the projects.’ Money must be spent in the Three Rivers region. ’We’re trying to plan for 10 years into the future,’ Kendrick said. On whether some counties would be donor counties, Glass said Lamar County ‘would receive more than we collect. That’s definitely to our advantage.’ Jere Moore said TSPLOST would differ from the gas tax by putting less burden on those who drive more and ‘put it on the little people. Let the larger users pay their fair share.’ Fuel tax revenue has gone down since 2007 due to more fuel efficient vehicles and less traffic, Banks said. ‘That tax is constitutionally allocated to the DOT, which doesn’t have the funds it did 20 years ago.’ The motor fuel tax peaked in 2007 at $1.027 billion. In 2010 it was $852 million. The 2012 fiscal year budget set it at $934 million. Of that, 30% pays debt service, 12% goes for DOT operations, 20% is allocated for capital projects and 11% is set aside for the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant, $100,642,250 for the whole state. Lamar’s share of LMIG funds would be set at $162,000 a year, also split between the county and cities. Unlike the old program where roads are submitted, the DOT will cut checks to the local governments. It would still be limited to roads and bridges but the cities and counties can prioritize which ones to repair. These funds could even be used for the 10% match if T-SPLOST passes. The next Lamar County Transportation Committee town hall meeting about the upcoming T-SPLOST vote will be held Thursday, May 24, at 7 p.m. at the Barnesville Civic Center.

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