After rejection three months ago, Dade County, Ga., tries again to add new sales tax

After rejection three months ago, Dade County, Ga., tries again to add new sales tax

February 13th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

In this 2017 staff file photo, westbound traffic passes beneath as a construction crew works atop the bridge replacement high above Interstate 24 at exit 169 in Dade County, Ga.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Updated at 4:41 p.m. on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 to correct the number of people who came to the polls to 1,011. A previous story said 576 people voted against and 435 voted for the T-SPLOST.

Once again, Dade County, Ga., officials will try to add a new sales tax.

The county commissioners are holding a special called meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. to decide whether to put a referendum on the May 22 ballot, asking whether people support a transportation special purpose local option sales tax. The 1 percent burden at the cash register would be earmarked for work on roads, bridges and other transportation projects.

If the commissioners put it on a ballot, this will be the second election in six months on the issue. In November, 55 percent of voters rejected it.

But County Executive Ted Rumley believes the referendum has a better chance to pass this time. With only Trenton, Ga., races on the ballot in November, just 1,011 people came to the polls.

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Dade County is a small community, but it's not that small. The turnout was less than half that of the May 2016 primary (2,251 voters) or the May 2014 midterm primary (1,870 voters).

The county and city, which would split proceeds from the new tax, have to act quickly to put the item on the May ballot. The county must send notice to Elections Supervisor Lowanna Vaughan at least 90 days before the election. That puts the deadline at Feb. 21.

Rumley said the added revenue would allow the county to cut the $680,000 it sets aside from the general fund for road budgets each year.

"It's another tax," Rumley said of the T-SPLOST. "And I don't like taxes. But it's a fair tax, if there is one."

Dade County Chief Financial Officer Don Townsend does not know how much money the added revenue source would bring the local governments. Last year, he projected a total of $9 million, with Dade County getting $6.8 million and Trenton getting the rest.

But there is a flaw in that calculation: It basically just mirrors the amount of money the county and city get for a different 1 percent sales tax. However, Georgia law does not allow governments to collect T-SPLOST money at the gas pumps. That cuts a significant chunk.

Townsend doesn't have specific figures from the Georgia Department of Revenue, but he estimates that about one-third of the current sales tax funding comes from fuel. He estimates that a T-SPLOST would actually bring in about $6 million.

When county and city officials thought they were getting a total of $9 million last year, these were the major projects: about $1 million for a new Interstate 59 exit north of Trenton, $4.2 million to pave county roads, $800,000 to pave city roads and $480,000 for a sidewalk from the city limits to a Lookout Mountain trail.

A new interstate exit will keep semi trucks out of Trenton's small town square when drivers try to get to the industrial park. Rumley said it will cut down on traffic, particularly as schools start.

Trenton Mayor Alex Case hopes to add sidewalks, grind down streets that have been paved too high over the years, buy a street sweeper, buy a striping truck and add some downtown lights, bushes and trees. He wants sidewalks running through State Route 136, in front of the McDonald's, Wendy's, Hardee's and Taco Bell.

"I want to get more foot traffic," Case said.

He sees middle school students walk there in the afternoons. But without a proper place for pedestrians, he said, the children are simply walking on the side of the road.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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