Bollinger explains TSPLOST to Rotary

Published 10:07 am Friday, June 1, 2012

DAN BOLLINGER, the recently-retired executive director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, spoke to the Rotary Club on Tuesday about the upcoming TSPLOST referendum.

Dan Bollinger, the recently-retired executive director of the Southwest Georgia Planning Commission, told the Bainbridge Rotary Club on Tuesday that the July 31 TSPLOST vote could be critical to the economic viability of the region.

The TSPLOST (or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) is a new tax being proposed to help solve the problem of antiquated and underfunded transportation projects in the state of Georgia. Voters in each of 12 regions in Georgia will vote on the tax, which will be a new 1-percent sales tax added to existing sales taxes.

Decatur County is in the Southwest Georgia Region with 13 other counties, and the vote will fail or pass region-wide. For example, voters in Decatur County could vote against the measure, but it would still pass region-wide as long as a majority of the region’s voters voted for it.

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If the TSPLOST is approved, 75 percent of the funds collected in the region will be used on a region-wide list of projects — Decatur County has seven projects on this list. The remaining 25 percent will be doled out to local governments, including Decatur County and the county’s city governments, to be used on local road projects.

Under the projections, the TSPLOST would bring in $48.5 million to the region, over the span of its 10-year collection period. The county’s governments would receive approximately $1.15 million per year, under the 25-percent allocation ($771,300 to Decatur County, $347,000 to Bainbridge, $7,800 to Attapulgus, $6,500 to Brinson and $11,000 to Climax).

“The biggest thing with this legislation is that the money raised in this district will stay in this district,” said Bollinger, who retired from his executive director position on May 31.

Bollinger said that if TSPLOST passes, local governments will still continue to receive their annual funding from the Department of Transportation’s LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) program. County Public Works Director Dennis Medley said that the county usually sees $440,000 annually through the LMIG program; so if TSPLOST passes the county would receive almost $1.2 million annually for local road projects.

Bollinger also explained that regions that pass the TSPLOST will have to make less of a local match for non-regional road projects approved by the DOT. Currently, governments make a 50-60 percent match for LMIG projects. If the region approves TSPLOST, that match will fall to 10 percent; if it does not approve TSPLOST, that match will be 30 percent.

The seven Decatur County regional projects that would be fully funded if TSPLOST passes are:

• County Road 14 (Butler Ferry Road) resurfacing — $434,000.

• County Road 208 (College Road) resurfacing — $447,700.

• County Road 208 (Whigham Dairy Road) widening/reconstruction from State Route 38 to State Route 97 — $11 million.

• County Road 402 (Faceville Attapulgus Road) — $3 million.

• Commodore One Rail Extension — $1.48 million.

• Commodore Industrial Park Route — $6 million.

• Bainbridge Public Transit and Ride Sharing — $2.4 million.

After his speech, Bollinger took questions from the audience. Charles Tyson asked if the TSPLOST was the first step in creating a regional-based taxing system for all sales taxes — including regular SPLOST and Education SPLOST.

“I haven’t heard any talk like that,” Bollinger said. “I know I have never wanted to be a regional government. There may be some in the state who want it, but I have never heard any of that talk.”

Another club member asked why the state cannot simply raise the gasoline tax. Bollinger said that there is not enough money in the gasoline tax, because vehicles are more fuel-efficient, and drivers are traveling fewer miles. The gasoline tax is based on gallons sold, not dollars.

Glennie Bench asked Bollinger what would happen if the TSPLOST projects were completed over- or under-budget.

“Well, that has been a big question in this process,” he said. “We’re working on a 10-year planning window, and that’s hard to predict what might happen over 10 years. I can tell you that there is an inflation factor built in to these numbers.

“Also, we have heard from DOT people that they would likely throw some money into the pot to complete all of the projects, if they’re not done by the time the 10 years is up. They really want to see this measure be a success, and I think it’s very good legislation.”