Athens residents won’t have to wait decades to see improvements from another transportation initiative up for a vote next year. In fact, the deadline is coming up soon to submit proposals for T-SPLOST 2023, an extension of a 1% sales tax for transportation projects.
T-SPLOST 2018 is set to run for five years or until it collects $109 million, whichever comes first. Since county sales tax revenue has been higher than expected—even during the pandemic and economic downturn—Athens-Clarke County officials are pushing up the vote from next November to next May to prevent a gap in collections. The next five-year T-SPLOST is expected to raise about $140 million, ACC Manager Blaine Williams said at a town hall meeting last week organized by Commissioner Tim Denson.
Citizens have until Aug. 15 to submit ideas for projects. An instructional video and submission form is available at accgov.com/tpslost.
T-SPLOST funds can be spent on airports, capital expenses for transit, roads, bridges, stormwater drainage, sidewalks and bike lanes. Projects funded by the current T-SPLOST include the North Oconee River Greenway, Firefly Trail, the roundabout at Whitehall Road and Milledge Avenue, a new bridge on Tallassee Road, new stormwater infrastructure and sidewalks on Clayton Street, as well as new sidewalks, bike lanes, road repaving and bus shelters all over town.
In addition, “it’s not entirely clear,” but “it’s a distinct possibility” that T-SPLOST could fund Athens Transit’s operating costs, Williams said. That would allow Athens Transit to remain fare-free after federal COVID-19 relief money runs out and to dramatically expand service.
After the deadline for submissions, a 22-member committee appointed by the Mayor and Commission will vet the projects and narrow down the list, with public input throughout the process. Lauren Blais, who also serves as chair of the Athens in Motion Commission overseeing bike and pedestrian projects, will chair the T-SPLOST Advisory Committee.
Projects will be judged on equity, social well-being, economic development and environmental sustainability, Williams said. Funding won’t be distributed evenly among geographical areas, but where it’s needed most. “Let’s recognize there are neighborhoods that have not had the infrastructure upgrades,” he said.
In March the county commission will finalize the project list and formally call for an election May 24, coinciding with partisan primaries in state and federal races.
If it seems like SPLOST was just on the ballot, it was. Voters overwhelmingly approved a SPLOST for all types of capital projects in 2019, most notably a new courthouse, the Bethel Homes redevelopment and a Classic Center arena. This fall, an extension of E-SPLOST, the sales tax for school construction, will be on the ballot. None of the three are new taxes; if they’re all approved, the sales tax rate in ACC will remain 8%. Of that, 4% goes to the state government, and 1% partially offsets ACC property taxes.
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