With little fanfare, Oconee County last week released a list of road projects that will be funded over the next five years if voters approve the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.
With current funding, County Administrator Justin Kirouac told the County Commissioners at their Goal Setting meeting on Thursday, the county will spend $2.5 million per year to pave 87 road projects or segments.
With the additional $30 million from the 1 percent transportation sales tax, Kirouac said, the county would pave an additional 326 roads or road segments.
If county voters approve the new tax, County Commission Chair John Daniell said, the county will be able to repave 213 miles of road over the next five years, or roughly half of the paved roads in the county.
With only five days of early voting remaining, 10,025 of Oconee County’s registered voters already have cast a vote in person, a pace ahead of the comparable election in 2018 but behind the 2020 presidential election.
The 10,025 in-person votes represent 30.6 percent of the 32,806 voters on the county’s voting rolls.
In 2020, with only five days remaining in early voting, 36.0 percent of the county’s registered voters had cast an in-person vote. In 2018, that figure was 26.5 percent.
Another 790 voters already have cast an absentee ballot in this year’s election, bringing to 10,815 the number of ballots cast so far, representing 33.0 percent of the registered voters in the county.
It is impossible to know how many of those who already have cast a ballot actually took a stand on the sales tax referendum.
|Daniells Bridge Road At Hog Mountain Road|
The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum is at the very bottom of the long ballot, below a vote for the Oconee River Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor and tucked in, and behind, two Constitutional Amendments and two statewide referenda questions that have attracted little attention.
County officials are not allowed to use tax funds to advocate for the referendum, though they can provide information about it, such as the information on what roads will be paved if the tax passes.
A few small signs asking voters to Vote Yes on TSPLOST have begun to appear around the county, and Commission Chair Daniell said in an email last week that these “were purchased with private funds.”
The commissioners decided to put the issue on the ballot again this year after voters turned it down in a low turnout election last year.
The commissioners have left little doubt that they are hoping for a positive verdict this year.
Basics Of Tax
If voters approve the referendum, the sales tax in the county will increase from its present 7 percent to 8 percent.
Funding from the tax will be in four categories.
The first is for a 1 mill reduction in property taxes.
The rate in the unincorporated parts of the county would drop to 4.954 and in the incorporated parts of the county to 5.804.
The commissioners have passed a resolution stating that the 1 mill reduction would remain in place for the five years the tax is in place.
The county will set aside $3 million for multi-use paths, $4.5 million for intersection safety improvements, and $30 million for road maintenance.
At the meeting on Thursday, Kirouac presented the Board with a list of road paving projects for Fiscal Years 2023 through 2027 with the current funding by the county over the next five years of $2.5 million per year
He also presented a second list for each of those same years if the tax is approved, or $8.5 million per year.
The tax would not go into effect until April of 2023, so the project list for Fiscal Year 2023 would not change if the tax is passed.
For Fiscal Year 2024, however, the county would add 60 projects to the 26 on the list with current funding.
In Fiscal Year 2025, with current funding, only Colham Ferry Road would be repaved.
If TSPLOST is approved, 103 projects would be added to the list.
Discussion Among Commissioners
Kirouac said the lists could be altered to address “catastrophic” road problems.
|Hog Mountain Road At Civic Center 10/30/2022|
He also said alternative paving options are being explored.
The county is paying $200,000 per mile using current techniques, he said, and alternatives are being explored that would cut those costs in half.
“It is very impressive to see with and without,” Commissioner Amrey Harden told Kirouac. He also said he hoped the lists would be available to the public.
Daniell told the other commissioners that the county’s goal is to repave 20 miles of road each year and the county will have to put more money from the General Fund into road maintenance to achieve that if TSPLOST fails.
Lisa Davol, Director of Parks and Recreation for Oconee County, also brought up TSPLOST in her presentation to the Board on Thursday.
She said the that the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission is creating a trail master plan for the county that will be provide connectivity along Hog Mountain Road linking the county’s two high schools with Herman C. Michel Park and Oconee Veterans Park.
The goal also is to connect with the planned new park on Rocky Branch Road near north Oconee High School, she said.
Early voting continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday of this week at the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road. No early voting will be held on Saturday.
Voting on Nov. 8 will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the county’s eight voting locations.
Early voting this year included two Saturdays, rather than the single Saturday in 2018 and 2020.
Through the end of voting on Friday, 9,391 voters had participated in early voting, or 28.6 percent of the total registered voters.
That is still higher than the 26.5 percent participation after 11 days of early voting in 2018.
I did not track absentee ballots received in 2018, so I cannot compare absentee ballots received to this point this year with those received after 11 or 12 days of early voting in 2018.
The election in 2020 was an unusual one because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 4,512 absentee ballots had been received after 11 days of early voting.
The General Assembly has restricted absentee balloting after the 2020 election by limiting application procedures and drop box use.