Thursday May 23rd, 2024 3:14AM

Bill aimed at stopping cities from stymieing county TSPLOSTs heading to Kemp's desk

By Caleb Hutchins Assistant News Director

A bill that aims to prevent cities from stopping county transportation sales tax initiatives has passed the state legislature and is heading to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's desk.

House Bill 946 was authored by District 27 Representative Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) and was sponsored by other Hall County representatives Emory Dunahoo, Derrick McCollum and Brent Cox. On the State Senate side, the bill was sponsored by District 49 Senator Shelly Echols (R-Gainesville).

The bill comes less than a year after negotiations on a new Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax ballot item broke down between Hall County and the cities of Buford and Rest Haven. Echols said it was the aftermath of that failed negotiation that led to her and other representatives looking for legislative answers.

Echols introduced a bill in the State Senate identical to House Bill 946, but the House bill was the one that was ultimately passed in both chambers.

"What current TSPLOST law says is that for a county to put a TSPLOST referendum on the ballot, 100 percent of the municipalities in that county have to sign an intergovernmental agreement. If you don't get 100 percent of the municipalities to sign the IGA, the county is not eligible for the full penny sales tax, it is only eligible for 75 percent of a penny sales tax," Echols said. "That IGA says which cities get how much money and what projects are funded in the TSPLOST, then it goes to the ballot for the voters to vote on."

The break down in negotiations between Hall County and Buford and Rest Haven was due to disagreements over property tax revenue between the county and the Buford City School Board. Buford and Rest Haven were the only municipalities in the negotiations to not sign the IGA.

"I began working with the two groups that represent counties and cities in the state, just working on language that we thought would benefit both cities and counties and keep one city with less than two percent of a county's population from preventing putting a referendum on the ballot," Echols said.

The new legislation, if approved by Governor Kemp, would allow a referendum to be put on the ballot as long as enough municipalities in the county agree to an IGA to represent 50 percent or more of the municipal population of the county. In Hall County's case, Echols said that would mean only the city of Gainesville would need to agree to the IGA for the referendum to move forward.

"If 100 percent of the cities in the county sign the IGA, then the TSPLOST would be one year longer," Echols said. "If 100 percent of the cities don't sign it, then the cities who don't sign it still receive funding from that TSPLOST based on a formula that the state uses right now for grants for transportation projects."

The bill passed the state house on February 20 by a 173-1 vote, and ultimately passed the senate by a 42-1 vote.

Echols said she has not received any pushback from the city of Buford or any other local or state representatives on the legislation and pointed the blame for last year's failed negotiations to Buford's City Commission and School Board Chairman Phillip Beard.

"No one wants to see something like (last year's failed negotiation) happen," Echols said. "This was one person who doesn't even live in Hall County that kept the voters of Hall County from deciding if they want to fund these transportation projects. That's wrong."

Beard issued a statement responding to the legislation's passage.

“I’m for sales tax, I’ve not been against the tax, I’m against the people I’m having to deal with in Hall County," Beard said.

Hall County Commission Chairman Richard Higgins voiced his support for the bill in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

“We are grateful for the diligence and dedication of our Legislative Delegation and ACCG in working to see this impactful piece of legislation pass through the House and the Senate," Higgins said.

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: Buford, hall county, State legislature, Lee Hawkins, Georgia politics, Shelly Echols, TSPLOST, Rest Haven
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