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Local officials huddled Tuesday morning to make plans for a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum later this year.
At the invitation of the Grady County Commissioners, Whigham Mayor George Trulock and Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton met with Grady County Administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, Grady County Commission Chairman Keith Moye, Grady County Commission Vice Chairman Phillip Drew, Commissioner LaFaye Copeland, Grady County Finance Director Holly Murkerson, and Grady County Clerk John White to discuss the proposed split of the tax revenue and prospective projects.
As reported last week by The Messenger, Cairo city officials plan to invest much of their share of the tax collections, if approved by the voters, on the next two phases of the city’s master street resurfacing plan as well as other transportation related projects.
Addleton said a major project the city would like to include would be South Broad Street improvements and sidewalk upgrades.
Whigham Mayor Trulock said he did not have a list of streets that needed work, but he said the council would have no problem coming up with a list of a half dozen or more to tackle. He also said there is interest in a streetscape project in the two block downtown section of Whigham being funded with the TSPLOST, which would include enhanced sidewalks, lighting and more.
Mayor Trulock also shared with the group the opinion of residents who had talked with him about the proposed new one percent tax who thought the county needed to be very specific about what roads would be improved with the TSPLOST if it were to be approved.
County administrator Johnson said he agreed and had no issue with doing so.
“As long as we do those roads we specify,” Chairman Moye commented.
Johnson says the county has more needs than there will be money to address, but some of the top priorities are Open Pond Road, Pine Park Road, Mizpah Road, and Mayfield Road.
“We would like to see at least one major road project in each of the five districts. Some need full depth reclamation and others just need some repair,” Johnson said.
While Johnson agreed some specifics need to be outlined in ballot language, there also had to be flexibility, too.
Chairman Moye asked what the average cost per mile for improvements is. According to Addleton and Johnson, the cost can range from $110,000 per mile for resurfacing up to nearly $1 million per mile for full depth reclamation.
Officials also discussed the life of repaired roads, but that varies depending on the weight of vehicles traveling on the road. “A bunch of weight will tear up a road,” Mayor Trulock said.
Officials are also planning to ask voters to authorize the three entities to issue bonds to accelerate funding of projects and the debt being paid with proceeds from the sales tax.
Chairman Moye asked when projects could begin if the tax is passed. According to Johnson, the tax can begin to be collected 90 days following the referendum and with advanced funding through bonds projects could get underway by early 2021.
“This is a one percent tax so it will take us to eight percent instead of seven, correct?” Chairman Moye asked.
Administrator Johnson said that was accurate and when asked by Vice Chairman Drew if there were any exemptions, the administrator said that the exemptions were the same as for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Officials note that all but a very small percentage of the tax is taken by the state to disburse collections back to the county, and the remainder of the money remains here and can only be invested in the transportation related projects.
Johnson said he was confident the voters would approve the SPLOST last November and he said Tuesday he believes the TSPLOST will be approved, but by a smaller margin. The administrator said local officials will have to adequately inform the public about what projects will be funded with the tax and present the case to civic clubs and organizations.
Mayor Trulock asked if the county was considering holding public hearings on the TSPLOST. Johnson agreed that would be positive and requested that the three bodies hold them jointly.
The next step will be for the two cities to prepare their lists of projects and suggested ballot language. Johnson will put the proposed ballot language in proper form and then it will be taken before the three governing bodies for their approval. Once all three have signed off, it will be transmitted to the local election superintendent and a call for an election will be issued.
The process must be completed prior to the end of February in order for the referendum to be held May 19.
If approved, the new tax is projected to generate not more than $15 million over the life of the tax, which would go into effect Sept. 1, 2020 and expire Aug. 31, 2025.
Based on the county receiving 59.7 percent of the tax, the county would have $8,955,000 to invest in transportation infrastructure; Cairo, with 38.4 percent, would receive $5,760,000; and Whigham at 1.9 percent would collect $285,000.