LAWRENCEVILLE — Hoping to take care of capital needs, Gwinnett officials have proposed that 70 percent of a three-year sales tax program be devoted to transportation.
While commissioners are expected to call for a referendum to allow for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on November ballots later this month, an agreement approved Tuesday outlines how the up to $498 million would be allocated between governments.
“We’ve tried to honor what we think is important to the community and to restrain ourselves to some extent,” County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said of the proposal, which also devotes money to public safety equipment like guns, fire engines and ambulances and library renovations.
While parks and recreation has received up to a 40 percent of the proceeds in the early 2000s, this proposal would limit the funds to 7.5 percent, less than $30 million, likely devoted to renovations and expansions rather than new parks. Another small piece, about 1.5 percent, has been designated for senior facilities.
Mayors from Gwinnett’s 16 cities are expected to sign off next week on the agreement, which would give 21.1 percent of proceeds to the municipalities. While cities make up about 25 percent of the county’s population, the agreement was reached due to the fact that the county maintains a large network of roads even within city limits. The county also agreed to set aside $25 million of the up to $275 million it would receive for transportation to devote to joint city/county projects.
While city governments have negotiated individual amounts devoted to items ranging from administrative facilities to water and sewer projects, officials agreed to devote 65 percent of the cities’ entire share to transportation, with Gwinnett’s largest and smallest cities — Peachtree Corners and Rest Haven — devoting their entire allotment to transportation. A complete break-down of the city allotments can be found at gwinnettdailypost.com.
“We looked at it from a lot of different angles,” Nash said of formulating the proposal, which will be on ballots during a special election for the first time since it was defeated in 1995. After that vote, officials took care to time the referendum with a major election, so the turnout would be higher and the government could save the nearly half a million dollar cost for a special election, Nash said, adding that the three-year cycle proposed would return the issue to presidential year ballots.
Denying that the failure of last year’s regional Transportation Investment Act referendum had a bearing in the decision to devote so much of the money toward transportation, which can include roads, bridges, pedestrian improvements and other projects, Nash said one factor determining the list was whether projects would impact the government’s operating budget. New police and fire stations or libraries, for example, would not be a good idea because the county would then have to find other sources to pay for personnel to man them.
At the same time, the government has to resurface roads and replace old ambulances, even if voters reject the sales tax program, Nash said, forcing the county to either delay the maintenance or find other funds.
“We needed to really focus on the absolute essentials,” Nash said.
In the figures, Nash said money for the library replacements will go toward projects in Duluth and Norcross, where funds came up short in earlier programs, but few specifics are known about the other categories at this time.
As in years past, the county plans to appoint a citizens committee to delve into transportation projects — although Nash noted that she hoped some of the funding could go to “keep some momentum” in a further extension of Sugarloaf Parkway around Lawrenceville.