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County to add TSPLOST to Nov. ballot

Voters heading to the polls this November will be presented with a ballot for TSPLOST, a special local option sales tax that takes 1 percent of all sales in Decatur County and puts it toward transportation projects.

If approved by voters, sales tax in the county will rise from 7 cents to 8 cents on the dollar. But the money going toward paving and repaving roads will ultimately provide relief to Decatur County’s general fund, stabilizing the millage rate.

Decatur County Administrator Alan Thomas said TSPLOST would help keep the millage rate down, while buyers throughout the county, whether they are residents or not, will be contributing to transportation improvement through their purchases.

“The general fund is funded primarily for us by property taxes,” Thomas said. “So that means the property owners are the ones submitting that tax money. (With TSPLOST), it means anybody and everybody that comes through the county to spend money, buys merchandise, they are going to help pay for that tax.”

Decatur County is responsible for roughly 320 miles of paved roads and 360 miles of dirt roads. Thomas said the paved roads needed to be maintained while also paving the high-traffic and high-residential dirt roads.

“A lot of them require resurfacing that we can’t afford to do,” Thomas said. “A lot of them we would like to pave and citizens would like to see new paving jobs.”

TSPLOST would be the funding source to get those types of jobs done.

A specific project on the mind of Thomas and Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby if TSPLOST is passed is to widen Whigham Dairy Road to create a less intrusive truck route. Currently, the state truck route takes semi-trucks down off of Highway 84, down West Street, onto Shotwell Street, onto Broad Street and then onto East Calhoun Street. The sharp turns and lack of space downtown create traffic problems as trucks squeeze their way through the streets.

Thomas and Hobby would like to change that.

“It will enable us to use any TSPLOST money that we were to receive, if the voters approved it, for that project,” Hobby said. “So that’s a big deal. You would see projects like Whigham Dairy get done quickly. Because it is a joint priority, it would be included on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, it would have all of the things that it needs to have to be expedited. That would be a good project.”

Thomas and Hobby went to Atlanta last month to discuss with state officials if widening Whigham Dairy Road to create a new truck route would be included under the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, Georgia’s capital and transportation improvements program.

Hobby also mentioned the ability to repave all of Bainbridge’s streets, many of which are filled with potholes, in a relatively quick timespan.

“The number one call I get from people is when are you going to repair potholes, when are you going to resurface,” Hobby said. “Paving comes down to money.”

Right now, the only transportation aid the City of Bainbridge gets for roads is through the local maintained improvement grant program that it gets from the Georgia Department of Transportation. That grant is worth $190,000 annually.

“That will pave something under 4-miles, annually,” Hobby said. “That’s the most we can do. Anything else comes from the general fund.”

Bainbridge is using a paver from 1980 on its current road projects. Although it’s an antique, the city can’t afford a new one because of other priorities. Not to mention it’s slow.

“It would take us about 40 years to resurface every street in town at the pace we are going,” Hobby said. “We are never going to get ahead. That pace has got to accelerate. The only way to accelerate the pace is to have additional funding to do it. That’s where TSPLOST comes in.”

TSPLOST works on a five-year cycle. Hobby believes every road in Bainbridge and the majority of the roads in Decatur County can be paved or repaved in the next seven to eight years.

If approved by voters in November, TSPLOST collections will begin in April 2018.