Residents expressed concern about, and support for, a transportation sales tax referendum during a Tuesday town hall meeting in Evans.
Leaders from the Georgia Department of Transportation, Columbia County and other municipalities led the second of two Transportation Investment Act meetings about the proposed 1 percent sales tax referendum, known as T-SPLOST, at the Evans Government Center auditorium.
About 50 people showed up to hear state DOT Deputy Commissioner Todd Long explain the proposal that would raise funds for transportation projects in Columbia County and the 13-county CSRA region.
“We (in Columbia County) are not necessarily in critical need of transportation improvements,” County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “But the alternative to this not passing is a very bleak picture in that there will be no money or very little money to complete things like Riverwatch Parkway, which is our No. 1 priority.”
The gas tax provides the majority of the current funding for transportation projects, but that isn’t nearly enough to keep up with improvements and maintenance needs, Long said. The transportation sales tax would supplement the gas tax.
If the T-SPLOST isn’t approved, the percentage of required matching funds by the local counties and cities will rise from 10 to 30 percent.
The proposed T-SPLOST is on Tuesday’s ballot.
Officials say the referendum, if passed, will provide $621 million regionally over 10 years and fund eight Columbia County transportation projects. The projects were tagged as priorities last summer during discussions attended by leaders from each county. Those projects include the extension of Riverwatch Parkway to Washington Road, widening Lewiston Road and Horizon South Parkway and improving Robinson Avenue in Grovetown.
The projects on the T-SPLOST list will improve regional traffic patterns, create thousands of jobs statewide and attract businesses, officials said.
Don Grantham, state transportation board member and former Augusta commissioner, said it is vital to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure to support the increased shipping capabilities of the port of Savannah, which is slated to be deepened.
Several residents spoke up about the tax increase. One person said the tax would be more expense on residents already burdened by lower incomes and a rising cost of living.
Another resident said he works in Richmond County and commutes 40 minutes a day. He said he supports the referendum because the roads need to be improved.
Tom Werner, owner of Pierwood Homes, said he also supports the proposed T-SPLOST.
“I like the list of projects that you have come up with, especially for Columbia County,” Werner said. “I build homes in this county and I understand what investment is.”
In 10 years, officials expect $840 million will be collected in the CSRA. Because that is 25 percent more than the projected cost of the projects, the remaining money will be divided between the counties in the region and earmarked as transportation discretionary funds.
Cross said the money would be great for paving remaining dirt roads in the county and adding sidewalks near several new schools.
Some residents said they were concerned about hiring of workers from out of the area to do the work and the efficiency of the crews performing the work.
Others attending the meeting didn’t like the idea of taxpayers funding road improvements.
“I don’t think it’s a perfect program,” Cross said, adding the referendum will allow county officials to do more planning. “It is a tax increase any way you look at it.
“This is the only game in town. What we’ll do otherwise, we don’t know. So this seems to be the best option.”