PROGRESS: Sales tax proposal to highlight November election

LAWRENCEVILLE -- For nearly three decades, Gwinnett leaders have looked to a voter-approved sales tax to build roads, libraries, parks and other civic buildings.

In November, the electorate will decide if the tax will continue past its April expiration.

While Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said she expects a referendum to be called, few details have been determined about the proposal.

In recent years, some of the projects that would require more staff work when they become operational have been put off. But those are also popular among voters.

Nash said she expects transportation and public safety to be among the project list, but she is not sure about others.

Commissioner Tommy Hunter agreed that transportation should be a priority, although he said he would like to also see stormwater funded, so a county fee could be discontinued.

"The voters told me loud and clear this past summer they want to spend SPLOST funds on high-capital, low-maintenance projects such as highways, bridges, and sidewalks, as opposed to low-capital, high-maintenance projects such as new parks and other facilities requiring on-going maintenance and staffing funded from general tax revenues," Hunter said.

Since last year's failure of a regional transportation sales tax, though, commissioners are taking extra steps this year. They said voters will have a chance to devise the proposal before it is placed on ballots.

"We are not taking anything for granted related to the next SPLOST referendum," Nash said. "We know that we need to focus on basic services and priority needs. We will take a serious look at operating costs and will favor projects that curtail pressures on property tax funds.

"The voters' reaction to the regional transportation tax referendum is an extra concern, but I believe that Gwinnett voters can distinguish between the regional tax proposal and what they will have a chance to decide in Gwinnett," she added. "Just about everywhere you look in Gwinnett, there are facilities and transportation improvements that were funded by local SPLOST programs. All the funds raised by SPLOST are used in Gwinnett, and purposes and projects will be determined by individuals who are accountable to Gwinnett voters."

Commissioner Jace Brooks said he believed the regional tax referendum failure could be attributed to a lack of public trust, an issue the county commission has worked to tackle.

"If the public has significant input into the priorities and projects chosen and trusts the leaders of Gwinnett County to wisely use the tax dollars for those projects, then SPLOST will be successful," Brooks said. "We are working diligently to gain that trust that has been so damaged over the past few years."