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SPLOST talks to continue
City, county review sales tax extension
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Dawson County and Dawsonville officials have begun outlining the projects they would like to see funded if voters approve a 1-cent sales tax extension in November.

The required meeting last week served as an information-gathering session for the county commission and city council, which will follow up with their respective bodies for further discussion before the June 19 deadline to reach an agreement.

The special purpose local option sales tax, known as SPLOST VI, is set to go before voters Nov. 4.

County Manager Cindy Campbell prepared a presentation that showed revenue projections from the tax ranging from $36.4 million over five years without a governmental agreement to $45.3 million for six years with an agreement.

According to Campbell's calculations, the county would receive the first 20 percent of revenue collected, with the remainder allocated based on population.

The 2010 census showed 2,536, or about 11.4 percent, of the county's 22,330 residents living in the city.

Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan disagreed with Campbell's interpretation of the code regarding disbursement of the first 20 percent of revenue.

"What I understand is that the 20 percent off the top is for city-countywide projects, so that 20 percent would be shared with the city with our Level 2 projects too, if they are servicing the county," he said.

The city's $9.6 million wish list of potential projects ranges from reducing the debt on the municipal complex and revitalizing downtown to funds for new sidewalks and acquiring land for a farmers' market and city park.

According to City Attorney Kevin Tallant, the state defines a countywide project as a project owned or operated by one or more municipalities for the benefit of everybody in the county.

"For instance, a park that would service both city, county residents," Grogan said.

County officials have said roads are the top priority for the sales tax collections, amounting to an estimated 63 to 72 percent of the county's proposed public works projects.

Commissioner James Swafford said roads could also be considered a city-county project, as could public safety.

"If you leave the city, chances are pretty good, you've got to get on a county road to get anywhere," he said.

In addition, the county's list includes funds for park improvements and to buy public safety vehicles such as patrol cars and an ambulance, as well as IT equipment and file storage.

The proposed projects would not be pre-funded.

"The direction I was given was that the commissioners were not interested in pre-funding and wanted to pay as you go," Campbell said. "The way I see it, if we're going to do [that], there's going to be conversations about priorities. This does not define what the priorities are."

The current sales tax program, SPLOST V, was approved by voters in 2007. It started in 2009 and continues through May 2015. If passed, SPLOST VI would begin in June 2015.

Initial projections for SPLOST V placed collections at about $91 million over six years, though actual collections have been much lower, at about $31.8 million to date.

"The county was in a huge growth spurt," said Commission Chair Mike Berg. "We had anticipated a $31 million budget for county government. Now we have a $20.8 million budget. So obviously we missed that, but so did everybody in the country."