Projects to require $2 billion
Leaders say infrastructure improvements to be costly

YOUNG HARRIS - Roads, parks, public safety and county government building needs total nearly $2 billion over the next five years, officials said Monday.

Nearly half of the unfunded infrastructure needs could be met, though, with an extension of the county's 1 percent sales tax on ballots next November.

"Every level of government always believes there are unfunded needs," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. "We have limited means to do what we have to do. It's going to have to be about prioritizing projects."

During the commission's annual retreat in Young Harris on Monday, officials outlined the possible use of the expected nearly $800 million a four-year tax program would draw.

Staffers propose using $90 million for an expansion to Gwinnett's crowded courthouse, up to $190 million for parks and more than $300 million for roads.

With cities taking a share of more than $100 million, $15 million would go to libraries, $47 million for fire stations and apparatus and $25 million for police precincts and needs, according to the proposal, which will be finalized by the end of August.

But the penny-on-the-dollar tax, which has provided for thousands of acres of parkland and hundreds of road projects, doesn't cover the capital needs of the county.

Officials said recent studies have found a deficit in building funds over the next five years to the tune of $1 billion in transportation projects, $500 million for parks, $80 million for police and fire departments, $90 million for the library system and $267 million in judicial and administrative support needs.

Staffers recommended against the use of impact fees to fund fire stations and an expansion to the county jail, which were recommended by a study panel last year.

Instead, Finance Director Lisa Johnsa said the county could get access to the needed jail money quicker through a bond referendum, which was the method used to fund a jail tower several years ago. Fire station funding would continue through the sales tax, she said.

Beaudreau, though, said impact fees were not off the table as a solution to the county's budget problems.

On top of the building needs, officials said the county's operating budget would also need additional revenues, with a 1.6-mill gap in property taxes in providing money to staff and run the currently funded capital projects expected to come on line in the next five years.

"It's a daunting task," Transportation Director Brian Allen said of meeting the monetary needs of the county.

With all the needs, Connell said next year's sales tax referendum "is probably the most important vote that will take place."

During today's session of the retreat, commissioners are expected to list their goals for the coming year.