Voters send clear message: T-SPLOST decisively fails in Three Rivers regionBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The results of the Three Rivers regional vote on a one percent sales tax for transportation projects were as many expected — the new tax failed to get approval. With almost all of the vote in, the tax failed regionally with a “no” vote of 69.32 percent. That was with eight of the 10 counties fully reporting.
The regional vote around 11:15 p.m. was 56,619 against, and 25,059 in favor. In Coweta County, the vote was 15,170 or 77.45 percent against, and 4,416 or 22.55 percent in favor.
For the 20 members of the Three Rivers Regional Transportation Roundtable, the vote meant that a year of work was basically for naught.
The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was created by the Georgia General Assembly in the Transportation Investment Act of 2000.
Under the law, every county in the state was essentially forced to participate in the creation of a project list to be paid for with the proposed tax. Counties were grouped into regions, based on the state’s existing service delivery regions.
Coweta County is part of the Three Rivers Regional Commission, which also includes Carroll, Heard, Troup, Meriwether, Pike, Upson, Lamar, Spalding, and Butts counties.
The regional transportation roundtable was made up of two representatives from each of the 10 counties. Coweta’s representatives were County Commission Chairman Rodney Brooks and Newnan Mayor Keith Brady.
Under the law, an executive committee of the roundtable was tasked with coming up with the project list, and the roundtable was responsible for approving the list.
Three Rivers did things a little differently, and the entire roundtable was intimately involved in the list preparation.
“The voters answered,” Brooks said Tuesday night. Brooks was a member of the executive committee.
“I don’t think anybody is ready for a new tax. I know I’m not,” Brooks said.
Brooks said he thought it was “a bad law to start with.”
“The whole thing was just trouble from the get go,” Brooks said. “I just fought hard to position Coweta County just in case it did pass,” he said.
Brooks said he feels the law is unconstitutional, both because of unequal representation on the roundtables, and because of the penalties included in the law.
Under the state law, regions that reject the tax will see their required “match” on certain state-funded transportation grants go from 10 percent to 30 percent. If the roundtable had not been able to come up with a project list, the match would be 50 percent.
Brooks said he expects the penalty to be challenged in court.
The match is for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Local Maintenance Improvement Grant (LMIG) program. Coweta County receives approximately $950,000 in LMIG money each year. Coweta almost always ends up paying more than 10 percent, though, because the county’s projects cost more than the grant amounts.
The roundtable met monthly from January to September of 2011, working to put together the list. Before they could begin to pare down the list of needed projects to what could actually be funded, the representatives had to come to an agreement on how to split the proceeds from the possible tax. It wasn’t always pleasant, and meetings got tense at times, with conflicts between the larger counties of Coweta and Troup, and the smaller counties of Lamar, Butts and Upson, which have small populations but regionally-significant roadways.
The group finally came to an agreement that each county would get back just about the same amount expected to be raised in the county.
The roundtable never seemed to have much confidence that the tax would pass. “It is a very difficult sell no matter where you are,” said Roundtable Chairman Maurice Raines at a particularly tense meeting held last July. Raines is also chairman of the Upson County Commission.
When discussing the makeup of the region, and the fact that some counties have more in common with neighboring counties in other regions, Carroll County Commission Chairman Bill Chappell called the region “an arbitrary creation of some dumb legislators.”
Voters in Three Rivers certainly weren’t the only ones who didn’t like the T-SPLOST. The Atlanta Region was 64 percent against with 57 percent of precincts reporting. Of the state’s 12 regions, the T-SPLOST was only leading in three at 11:30 Tuesday night. In Central Savannah River, 53.5 percent of votes were in favor. In River Valley, 54 percent were in favor, and in Heart of Georgia Altamaha, 52 percent were in favor.