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Commissioners set Gwinnett SPLOST list

Two weeks after collections began for Gwinnett’s latest Special Purpose Local Sales Tax program, officials nailed down the list of projects it will fund.

With a focus on sidewalks and safety in transportation, renovations at parks and senior centers and equipment and apparatus for public safety, commissioners approved more than $400 million in capital projects.

“It’s a great list,” Commissioner Tommy Hunter said. “I’m excited about it. It’ll give us a chance to show the citizens we will spend their money wisely, and that they’ll actually get something for the dollars they are putting toward it.”

While taxpayers approved a three-year collection of up to $498 million during a referendum last year, officials budgeted for a more conservative amount, earmarking $417.3 million, more than half of which will go to road improvements.

“We were lucky to have good folks working to make sure we have good projects moving forward,” Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said, acknowledging not only the work of the government staff but a committee of residents who met for six months to consider projects for roads, seniors who participated in town hall meetings and recreation authority members who gave input.

After an economic recession left the county with little room to expand its operations, tens of millions of dollars remain unspent from the 2009 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which ended, in terms of collections, at the end of March. So leaders made a concerted effort to focus the 2014 list on projects that would not force the county to add staff or increase operations.

With a new police precinct funded by the last program on hold, officials divvied up public safety funding among departments for equipment, apparatus and technology, adding to the previously promised funding for an emergency alert system for local schools to coordinate with police and a medical examiner’s facility. The biggest portion of the remaining funds will go to the fire department, giving it $23.7 million, while police will receive $18 million and the sheriff’s office $4.5 million.

With senior services tapped to receive proceeds for the first time in county history, the $5 million earmark will be devoted to renovations at Buford and Norcross senior centers, a Centerville senior center and vehicles. The limited library allocation will be directed to the relocations of Norcross and Duluth branches, which had previously been partially funded.

The $24 million in parks funding is set to go toward rehab of a 40-year-old gymnasium at Best Friend Park, as well as facilities at Jones Bridge, Mountain Park and Ronald Reagan parks and trail renovations at Little Mulberry and Yellow River parks. Officials are also set to convert fields at Bethesda and Peachtree Ridge parks to artificial turf, and capital needs will be addressed at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse and Environmental and Heritage Center. Expansions are on tap for the popular Alexander and Club Drive parks.

Highlights of the transportation funding include a new bridge and intersection improvements along Dacula Road at U.S. 29 and the CSX railroad crossing in Dacula, improvements along Ga. Highway 316 intersections and funding for new interchanges for Interstate 85 at McGinnis Ferry Road in Suwanee and Gravel Springs Road in Buford, as well as some funding to further extend Sugarloaf Parkway in the Dacula area. Sidewalks will be funded along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Berkeley Lake, Peachtree Corners Circle in Peachtree Corners and several stretches of Sugarloaf Parkway, as well as projects at Archer, Mill Creek, Lanier and South Gwinnett high schools, Georgia Gwinnett College and other campuses.

Commissioner John Heard said he heard from some constituents in the Hamilton Mill area who were upset to learn that an improvement had not made the top tier list. They were upset that a group of residents had gotten involved in the citizen selection process, lobbying successfully for their proposal to jump others on the list.

But Heard said leaders were able to find some funding elsewhere for the Hamilton Mill concerns.

“I think what we are able to do is a win-win scenario,” Heard said, extending his thanks to the people who worked on the list.

“One big thanks to the citizens, who voted for the referendum,” he added.