The group charged with pushing a new 1-cent sales tax for regional transportation projects met for the first time last week as it aims to put the vote on a ballot in 2012.
Made up of 26 officials from counties and cities in the Georgia mountains region, the group elected an executive committee that will determine a priority list of road projects the tax would fund.
“That group will take all of the transportation requests and match them to the amount of money that we anticipate will be collected,” said Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg, who will represent the subregion of Dawson, Lumpkin and White counties.
The executive committee also includes Mayors Ruth Bruner of Gainesville, H. Ford Gravitt of Cumming, Harris Little of Carnesville and Stan “Butch” Darnell of Rabun County.
The group tapped Habersham County’s Sonny James as the committee’s non-voting chairman.
“Obviously, just by the fact that I’m one of the five, certainly my interest will be in how does this help our particular area,” Berg said.
“That being said, as a realist, I know that unless it fits the general scope, the roundtable won’t accept it, so we’ve got to have something that kind of meshes us all in together.”
The roundtable must decide on a final project list by Oct. 15.
If voters within the district approve the tax on Aug. 21, 2012, the state would begin distributing proceeds in 2013.
From there, 75 percent of the money would be dedicated to regional projects decided on by the roundtable and 25 percent would go to local governments.
The committee must hold two public hearings prior to the vote and share details of the tax, which would last 10 years.
Berg said similar to county 1-cent sales tax votes, county and municipal officials cannot promote the issue.
“We would be leaving that up to chambers of commerce, development authorities and consultants,” he said.
Todd Long, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planning director, said the catalyst behind the whole sales tax matter are motor fuel taxes.
He said those taxes, the state’s traditional road revenue source, are “in bad shape.”
People are driving less because of high gas prices and trading for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Long said he recently ditched a 20-year-old pickup truck for a Toyota car.
Lamar Paris, who was elected to chair the roundtable, said the tax initiative will call for historic cooperation among officials across the state.
“It’s critical we work together,” he said. “We’ve got to look at this as, in the end, what’s fair for everybody and what suits the region.”
Gravitt told the group that “in talking with legislators, there are some things that need to be tweaked (with the law) ... but this is the best we’ve got right now.”
“Mayor, it took us five years to get to this point,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, one of three lawmakers who will sit as non-voting members to the roundtable.
He was referring to the hotly contested debate over the issue in the legislature.
“I recommend we work together, drop all the boundaries and make it work.”
Jeff Gill of the DCN regional staff contributed to this report.