Friday, June 4, 2004

Brown: County wanted to avoid new SPLOST law


Peachtree City Mayor Steve Brown thinks the Fayette County Commission was unfair with its recent vote to hold a referendum for a special purpose local option sales tax for transportation projects.

Brown said the commission intended to circumvent a new law taking affect July 1 that was designed to level the playing field for cities when it comes to SPLOST initiatives, which can only be brought forth by county governing bodies.

The SPLOST could raise an estimated $116 million over a five-year period. The county commission decided that 70 percent of the SPLOST revenues would be used for county road projects with the other 30 percent being split between the county’s municipalities.

Brown estimated that Peachtree City will account for $50 million of the projected SPLOST revenues and should get its fair share.

“What we are in favor of is equity in the distribution of tax revenues,” Brown said, noting that the entire City Council was against the 70-30 split.

Had the county waited until after July 1 to vote for the SPLOST, they would have had to call a meeting with the municipalities to “discuss possible projects for inclusion in the referendum, including municipally owned or operated projects.”

Another change to the law allows for the county and cities to enter special intergovernmental agreements pertaining to the projects that would be funded by the SPLOST.

Those requirements were bypassed since the SPLOST vote by the county commission took place well before the July 1 changeover date for the legislation.

“I think the people of Peachtree City are far too smart to put up with shenanigans like that,” Brown said.

The county’s plan only includes engineering funds for a project aimed at the intersection of Ga. Highways 54 and 74, which is the only location in Fayette County that is in the top three of congested areas in the entire DOT district, Brown said. As the city envisions the grade separation project, it will cost roughly $10 million, Brown said.

The project would involve raising the grade level of one of the highways and tunnelling underground to lower the level of the other highway so traffic could flow continuously in all directions at the intersection, Brown said. While it would be cheaper to build a bridge for the same affect, Brown noted it wouldn’t be as aesthetically pleasing.

Because the county didn’t include any construction funds for the grade separation of the intersection in the SPLOST plan, it shows the commission is not truly “prioritizing” projects based on current needs, Brown said.

The mayor also noted that the county’s argument that Peachtree City has received the lion’s share of road funding recently doesn’t apply since all of the matching funds for DOT projects came out of the city’s general fund.

“Not one dime of that came from the county,” Brown said.

Brown also pointed out that the new law was approved by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association.

Tax squabbles between Peachtree City and Fayette County aren’t new. City officials have long argued that their residents, who also pay county taxes, don’t receive enough services from the county in return.

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