T-SPLOST campaign gears up; Voters to decide July 31By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The campaign is gearing up for the July 31 referendum on a 10-year regional sales tax for transportation projects.
Representatives from the Three Rivers Regional Commission are busy doing voter education events around the region, and the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce has held two of the five focus groups it has scheduled to gauge Chamber member opinion on the referendum.
Popularly known as TSPLOST — Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax — the proposed tax would be a one-percent tax on most sales (though not on gasoline) that will go to fund transportation projects in the Three Rivers planning region, of which Coweta is included.
The law that created the TSPLOST is known as the Transportation Investment Act, or TIA.
The tax will pass or fail regionally. Whether or not voters in a particular county approve or reject the tax doesn’t matter — only the region-wide total does.
The Three Rivers region includes Coweta, Carroll, Heard, Troup, Meriwether, Spalding, Lamar, Upson, Pike, and Butts counties.
Seventy-five percent of the funds collected from the tax will fund a predetermined list of projects. The remaining 25 percent will be distributed to the counties by a formula based on population and road miles. That money is “discretionary” and can be used for any “transportation purpose.”
The money raised by the tax in the 10-county region can only be spent within the region. It can’t be transferred to any other area of the state.
The TSPLOST was discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the Three Rivers Regional Commission board, which was held at the Coweta County Fairgrounds.
Robert Hiett, governmental services director for Three Rivers, said he and Executive Director Lanier Boatwright have been to several public education/awareness meetings around the region.
“We are fairly, solidly scheduled with those through late June, at this point,” Hiett said.
“We have been to a lot of different coordination meetings where we have worked with the local groups to go over information about TIA and TSPLOST that is relevant to each community,” Hiett said. “We have provided information and materials to each community. We’ve sent them to each chamber. We’ve sent a lot of information about specific projects, and discretionary allocations,” he said.
Most of the information is also available on the Three Rivers website at www.threeriversrc.com, Hiett said.
About 15 people stayed for the TSPLOST focus group held Tuesday following the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast forum, said Dennis McEntire, chairman of the Chamber board.
“We invited anybody interested in staying afterwards to talk about TSPLOST,” McEntire said. The meeting was “really very informal,” he said.
Boatwright from Three Rivers was on hand and was “the most knowledgable person” about the sales tax referendum.
McEntire said roughly one-third of those at the group indicated they were not in favor of the TSPLOST.
“Nobody said, ‘I am totally against it,’” McEntire said. “They just had some concerns.”
“This is all a process of trying to educate ourselves and, so, different views were expressed,” he said.
One concern was not knowing exactly where the money goes, McEntire said.
“It was explained to us that the Department of Revenue” collects the money, which is “never commingled with state funds,” he said.
This is the second focus group and every time they have one “we learn a little bit more about what the facts are,” McEntire said.
There is one more focus group open to all Chamber members. It will be held at the early bird forum on June 26 at the Central Educational Center from 7:30 to 9 a.m.
There will also be a focus group for Leadership Coweta alumni and one for “enhanced investors.”
In addition, the Chamber is putting together a group of people to look carefully at the project list.
“We’re going to look at every project on the county’s list and just talk about the pros and cons of it,” McEntire said.
Coweta County’s list includes 21 projects. Some are related projects, while others aren’t really projects at all, such as “operating and capital assistance” for Coweta’s “dial a ride” transit program, and funding for the continuation of the regional Xpress Bus service.
Many of the major projects on Coweta’s list have other possible funding sources.
For instance, the new Interstate 85 interchange at Poplar Road is on the TSPLOST list, but it was also included on Coweta’s SPLOST, which was approved in March.
If the TSPLOST funding is approved, the Coweta SPLOST money set aside for the Poplar interchange can be used for other road projects identified in the county’s transportation plan.
And the various projects related to the extension of the Newnan Crossing Bypass — the Bypass extension itself, associated widening of Highway 16 East from the I-85 to U.S. 29, and the intersection improvement at U.S. 29, Highway 16, and Pine Road south of Newnan — were originally included in the 2006 SPLOST.
Some projects on the original 2006 SPLOST list had to be cut after revenues dropped below predictions because of the economy.
If the TSPLOST is approved, the money allocated for the Bypass/Pine projects will be spent on the other projects that were cut, according to Patricia Palmer, Coweta’s public affairs director.
Coweta County is predicted to receive $167,545,694 from the TSPLOST for projects on the list, and $43 million in discretionary funding over the 10-year life of the tax.
Coweta’s project list is as follows: engineering and right-of-way for the proposed new interchange at I-85 and Amlajack Boulevard; extension of Amlajack; operating and capital assistance for the Coweta Transit System; operating and capital for an expansion fo the Coweta Transit system; intersection improvements at “Five Points”; regional vanpool service; widening a portion of Lower Fayetteville Road; runway improvements and a new terminal building at the Newnan-Coweta Airport; widening Newnan Crossing Boulevard East from two to four lanes; the extension of the Newnan Crossing Bypass to Hwy. 16; new Poplar Road interchange; widening and improvement of Ga. Hwy. 154 from U.S. 29 to Ga. Hwy. 54; a roundabout at the intersection of Hwys. 16 and 54; widening Hwy. 16 from I-85 to U.S. 29; intersection improvements at 29, 16, and Pine Road; intersection improvements at Bullsboro, Amlajack, and Parkway North; multi use trails along Bullsboro/Hwy. 34 from Farmer Street to the Fayette County line (two projects); widening the railroad bridge on Hwys. 74/85, and Xpress Regional Commuter Service.