LAWRENCEVILLE -- With a vote expected in nine months, city leaders began talks Friday on how to divide their share of a proposed extension to the county's special purpose local option sales tax.
While county officials have not made any decisions on the program, which has funded $2 billion in capital projects over the past three decades, a current projection shows about $830 million could be collected countywide in five years, if voters approve the measure in November.
According to state law, the money must be shared with local cities based on population. But Gwinnett Municipal Association Director Randy Meacham said at a meeting of city officials Friday there has not been a consensus on which population figures to use, since the city of Peachtree Corners formed after the 2010 Census, and, through annexation, Norcross has grown by 25 percent in that time.
In the coming months, the various governments are expected to begin formulating lists of projects, so voters would more before the balloting takes place.
In the past, much of the programs have focused on transportation, public safety, parks and libraries.
"Transportation may have changed. That's the $64,000 question," Suwanee City Manager Marty Allen said, referring to possible change in public support since last year's failure of a regional transportation sales tax.
But because of that failure, Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson encouraged city leaders to strongly consider roads as part of their lists.
"I'm fairly sure you aren't going to see new transportation money for several years," said Johnson, who chaired a group of mayors and commission chairmen who devised the Atlanta T-SPLOST list.
Since last year's referendum, Johnson said leaders should learn some lessons from it and be sure to educate voters about the upcoming proposal.
"You can't assume people have the information and get it," he said. "Getting the information out there is going to be crucial to getting informed voters."
He noted that while elected officials can speak out, they cannot use city resources to campaign for or against the proposal.
"You not only have a right but a duty and responsibility to share what your citizens are going to vote on," Allen added, saying that the city includes background in its newsletters although it does not advocate. "But you do have to be careful about what you say."
With questions coming from some city officials new to the process, like Duluth City Manager Tim Shearer, many of the municipal leaders offered advice on finding projects that fulfill city needs while being sure long-term operations costs can be met and at the same time making residents happy.
Some city leaders said they planned to engage residents in the process of formulating their list of projects.
"You may not get to do any projects if the voters don't pass it, so you have to think about that," Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks said.