Tax re-up in the works

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County officials are proposing a five-year sales tax extension to fund roads, parks, libraries and a county courthouse, officials said during a meeting Thursday.

The special purpose local option sales tax, which has netted $1.9 billion in projects since 1988, expires at the end of March, but officials are expected to place an extension on the ballot in November.

Since 1996, residents have approved the 1 percent sales tax in four-year increments, but officials said Thursday they would ask for a five-year extension, which would bring in about $850 million.

Under the proposal, the county would pursue a cost-sharing method to set aside the first 20 percent of proceeds for recreation and library projects. The remainder would be shared with local cities based on population, giving the 15 municipalities about $132.7 million for their own projects.

"It's made a huge difference for us. It's something we need to serve our citizens well," said Berkeley Lake Mayor Lois Salter, who heads the Gwinnett Municipal Association.

While county officials gave cities about $22 million in the 2001 sales tax program, the county was required by law to share a greater amount with cities beginning with the 2005 program. With that, Lawrenceville and Duluth built city halls; Snellville bought police cars; Lilburn enhanced its City Park; and other projects have been pursued throughout Gwinnett.

While city officials will turn in final project lists next month, possible projects include a passive park in Snellville, parking enhancements in downtown Norcross, a new water plant in Buford and new city halls in Berkeley Lake and Lilburn, not to

mention millions of dollars worth of road projects, officials said Thursday.

County Administrator Jock Connell said the county government's share will likely be allotted between transportation, parks, library and public safety facilities with specific projects formulated through a citizens selection process, as in past years.

He said commissioners are considering earmarking $90 million for a courthouse expansion, which would qualify as a project for money to be set aside before the sharing formula with cities. But Connell said officials wanted to give a larger share to the cities.

"We chose not to pull that much off the top," he said. "We thought this was more fair. Our citizens use them (parks and roads) all, so everybody benefits."

An agreement with the cities must be reached by Aug. 15, officials said, with commissioners calling for the November referendum Aug. 19.

Connell said an independent group has begun working on a campaign for the extension.