LAWRENCEVILLE -- Just a year after a regional transportation tax failed at the polls, Gwinnett officials say they plan to devote three-quarters of a proposed county special purpose local option sales tax to that use.
Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash told city leaders Tuesday that the county intended to devote 70 to 75 percent of the proceeds from the proposed extension of the current 1 percent tax -- up for a vote later this year -- to transportation projects.
While officials still must decide on the length of the program and other issues before an official call for the November referendum, Nash said commissioners believe the money would best be devoted to a need that will not require much contribution from the county's strained operating budget.
The remaining 25 to 30 percent of the funding would be divided among public safety, recreation, senior services and library replacement projects, she said of the up to $498 million that could be collected under a three-year program or $889 million that could come in a five-year cycle.
"It takes a lot of funding to deal with the transportation needs of the county," Nash said.
Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson applauded the county's allocation plans, saying that the failure of last year's Transportation Improvement Act proposal for a regional tax leaves governments with fewer resources, since state and federal budgets are tighter.
"I think the county is on a really good path to look at transportation," said Johnson, who led a regional roundtable that devised the Atlanta regional proposal. "You can really tell a difference in counties that invest in infrastructure and those that don't."
Many city leaders said their own project lists show a majority of the funds going toward transportation, talking about proposals that include sidewalks and multi-use paths that belong in the category alongside roads and bridges. They did point out that the county's list will not include transit -- a segment of the Atlanta plan that was unpopular in the suburbs.
Over the 28 years Gwinnett has participated in SPLOST programs, more than $2.5 billion has been collected, including more than $1.2 billion for transportation projects.
Nash pointed out that the county's first sales tax program raised funds for the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, where Tuesday's required meeting with municipal leaders took place.
Like the Atlanta regional proposal in 2012, Gwinnett also has a history of devoting all the sales tax proceeds to transportation. In 1995, local voters rejected an extension of the program devoted solely to transportation. The tax resumed after a successful 1996 vote, when quality of life projects such as parks, libraries, and police and fire stations were added to the proposal.
While government leaders are prohibited from using public resources to advocate for or against the sales tax proposal, many of the elected officials said they personally believe the passage is critical to the community.
With government trust at a low, though, Nash said the leaders have a responsibility to report to the public on how the tax dollars have been spent over the past three decades.
"I think that is the most compelling statement we can make," she said, describing the projects that tax proceeds have funded as things people "touch" every day. "We have kept faith with the public ... and we delivered good projects."
By the end of July, officials must reach an agreement on how the money will be divided over project categories and amongst Gwinnett and its 16 cities. The referendum is expected to be held in a special election Nov. 5.