Frady: Fayette a ‘donor’ county in regional sales tax, as local projects drop off list
One of Fayette County’s two negotiators for regional transportation projects says at this stage it looks as if Fayette taxpayers will be sending out more sales tax money than they will receive in return.
That comes after the list of projects in Fayette County under consideration for possible regional sales tax funding keeps dwindling.
The latest round of cuts, released Thursday, were so severe that Fayette County Commission Chairman Herb Frady bluntly assessed: “It looks like Fayette will be a donor county.”
The “donor county” phrase refers to a theory that Fayette County residents will be paying more into the regional sales tax than the monetary benefit they will realize from the projects.
Frady said his assessment was based on the number of projects Fayette has left on the recommended lists, which varies from six to eight.
Fayette’s other negotiator, Fayetteville Mayor Kenneth Steele, has supported the concept of the regional tax provided there’s enough on the table to benefit the entire county.
Fayette County is anticipated to chip in some $190 million over the 10-year length of the tax. If Fayette were instead to seek a Fayette-only five-year sales tax that would be spent on local projects only, it would conceivably raise $85 million based on the projections.
If the regional sales tax is approved, Fayette County’s governments would share in about half that amount, some $43 million over the 10 years that can be spent on any local transportation project they wish, officials have said.
Though it’s still early in the process, a best-case scenario formulated by the staff of the Atlanta Regional Commission has Fayette County getting a direct impact of $149.6 million. On the flip side, that figure could slip to $130.8 million.
The above figures were calculated to include all projects located in Fayette County, along with the interchange improvements at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 74 in Fairburn which should help many commuters going to Atlanta from Peachtree City and Tyrone.
The calculations also include the $43 million over the 10-year tax that will be given back to local governments in Fayette County to use on any transportation project they choose. In fact that is the most certain aspect of the regional sales tax if it’s implemented, because those payments are mandated by the legislation that was approved last year creating the regional sales tax referendum.
But it’s almost a certainty the other projects and figures will change, as the project lists morphs on the way toward a final deadline of Oct. 15. That’s when the 21-member Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable will finalize the project list.
Commission Chairman Frady is on that roundtable, as is Fayetteville Mayor Steele. Each county in the 10-county Atlanta region has two representatives, with the other member being Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The roundtable is tasked with finalizing a list for voters to consider in a July 2012 referendum on whether to enact a regionwide 1 percent sales tax or not.
In the worst-case scenario presented last week by the staff of the Atlanta Regional Commission, Fayette County would get funding for:
• Construction of both phases of the East Fayetteville Bypass, with the northern terminus at Ga. Highway 85 north and Corinth Road and ending at the south at South Jeff Davis Drive and County Line Road;
• Widening of Ga. Highway 85 from Grady Avenue in south Fayetteville southward to Bernhard Road;
• Two large-scale cart path connection projects in south Peachtree City which would link to businesses in the city’s industrial park, along with the Baseball Soccer Complex and businesses along Crosstown Road; and
• The “gateway” cart path bridge over Ga. Highway 54 West linking a path on MacDuff Parkway to the Shoppes at the Village Piazza shopping center, and also the Line Creek Nature Area.
Should more money become available, ARC staff have contemplated adding two more projects: a bridge replacement at McIntosh Road and the Flint River in south Fayette County, and the widening of Ga. Highway 92 South from Jimmie Mayfield Boulevard in south Fayetteville southward to McBride Road.
There are two other large-scale regional road projects mostly outside the county lines that could directly impact Fayette County also. One of them is the widening of Ga. Highway 54 East of Fayetteville from McDonough Road to Highway 19/41 in Clayton County, with an estimate of $40 million. That project was included in all three scenarios published by the ARC.
Somewhat less tenuous are the prospects for the second project: $70 million to widen McDonough Road from Ga. Highway 54 just outside Fayetteville to Highway 19/41 in Clayton County. That project was included only in one of the funding scenarios.
Meanwhile, Fayette County has seen some significant projects bite the dust in the early rounds of the process, including the realignment of Hood Avenue and Ga. Highway 92 in Fayetteville, the extension of MacDuff Parkway in Peachtree City and the widening of Ga. Highway 279 from Ga. Highway 85 north to the Fulton County line. Also cut from the list have been bridge replacements at Kenwood Road and Morning Creek, and at Ebenezer Church Road at Whitewater Creek.
The caveat is that any of those projects and more can be potentially resurrected for funding on the sales tax. That’s because the final say rests with the 21-member regional roundtable.
The problem the roundtable has been grappling with in recent meetings has been over transit: specifically how to implement transit projects and how much to spend on them.
There are no transit projects for Fayette County on the list at all for potential funding, not even so much as a commuter bus route into downtown Atlanta.
The regional sales tax process as approved by the legislature has been criticized in large part because the referendum will be counted on an aggregate vote among all 10 counties in the Atlanta region. That means if the tax is approved, it will be assessed here in Fayette County even if the vote is shot down by more than 50 percent of Fayette County voters.
Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix has argued that Fayette County is far better off implementing its own local transportation sales tax, keeping all funds for projects in Fayette and its cities instead of the regional sales tax.