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Development authority talks T-SPLOST
Members encouraged to educate residents
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Forsyth County News

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More information about the Georgia Mountains Region of the Transportation Investment Act and possible road projects can be found at www.connectgeorgiamountains.org.

Members of the Lanier Joint Development Authority gathered in Cumming on Monday to discuss the upcoming regional referendum on a 1-cent sales tax for transportation.

The group is made up of members from economic development agencies from Forsyth, Cherokee and Hall counties. They meet about once a year to discuss issues that could have an impact on regional growth.

On Monday, members focused their attention on the proposed Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST.

If approved by voters July 31, that tax could help fund pre-approved road projects in various regions throughout the state.

Forsyth and Hall counties are part of the Georgia Mountains Region, which includes 11 other counties in northeast Georgia. Cherokee is in the Atlanta Regional Commission district, which includes metro Atlanta.

In the Mountains Region, the tax is expected to yield up to $1.26 billion over a 10-year period, with about 25 percent of that money going toward local projects.

The majority of it, however, would fund regionally beneficial projects chosen by a roundtable.

The widening of Ga. 400 from McFarland Road to Hwy. 20 is among the list’s top priorities. Other widening projects throughout the county are also included.

James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, told members that while the development authority cannot lobby for or against the measure, they can educate voters in their respective counties.

“I’ll let you know a little about what the chambers [of commerce] are doing with the knowledge that this group cannot advocate for it, should not advocate for it, but should take a role in educating the public,” McCoy said.

He noted that chambers of commerce in the Georgia Mountains Region have joined forces to create a committee called Citizens for Greater Transportation Region II.

“The campaign has raised private money that will be used in the coming weeks to promote the transportation referendum and explain to the public what exactly [the tax] is to do and why it’s so important to the community,” he said.

He said that campaign will include utilizing media outlets, as well as direct mailings and word-of-mouth efforts.

“At the end of the day for the chambers and for this group, probably the most important aspect of that is the economic impact that it will have,” he said.

McCoy noted the effects transportation improvements can have a region’s economic growth, pointing to Forsyth County and Ga. 400 as an example.

“[Ga. 400] was truly built as an economic development highway and from the time it was built until today, Forsyth County went from being one of the least affluent counties in the state to the most affluent county in the state.

“It really speaks well to the power transportation infrastructure can have in providing a real change in your community, real job growth, and so that is our argument. That is what we have been informing and will continue to inform the public.”

McCoy said the biggest challenge in advocating for the tax is not changing the minds of those who are against it, but educating many who seem to be completely unaware of the issue.

“We know from data that’s been collected that voters who are otherwise very educated, just simply aren’t aware that this is even going on,” he said. “It’s such a critical, critical issue that folks, at minimum, need to know the facts of what’s going on.”

David Lee of Hall County echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t think that it’s necessarily that we’ve got a sentiment against it,” he said. “I think it’s just making people vote one way or another. I think it’s just a product of information overload now.

“If you’re like me, you get 50 e-mails a day on things that don’t matter … the challenge is just trying to keep this out of that category.”

Also at the meeting, the authority voted to re-elect its current officers.

Lee will continue to serve as chairman, while Ben Looper of Cherokee will continue as vice chairman and Tim Evans of Hall as secretary.