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Official discusses funding for roads
Tax talk part of chamber lunch
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Matthew Fowler, an official with the Georgia Department of Transportation, speaks at the chambers Economic Development Luncheon on Thursday at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Autumn Vetter

 

A state Department of Transportation official encouraged support of a regional transportation sales tax during a visit Thursday.

Matthew Fowler, assistant planning administrator of the DOT, addressed a crowd of about 150 during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Fall 2011 Economic Development Luncheon.

The event was held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

Randall Toussaint, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, said Fowler’s presentation was a good fit for the event.

“Infrastructure plays a key role in any economic development,” Toussaint said. “We’re going to look at transportation infrastructure today.”

Fowler said transportation funding is a “hot topic in the state and the nation right now.” He noted that federal and state gasoline taxes have been helping pay for transportation costs since 1916.

In Georgia, he said, road projects are funded almost entirely by federal gasoline taxes.

The economic downturn in recent years has had a large impact on gasoline tax revenue.

“Traffic today is much lighter than it was back in the 2007 time period,” Fowler said. “People are changing their working and living locations in response to traffic.

“A lot of jobs are moving out closer to the suburbs, so there’s been a reduction in the miles traveled by many people.”

In response to lower gas tax revenue, Fowler said state leaders developed the Transportation Investment Act of 2010.

If approved by voters in July, the act would allow the creation of a 1-cent local option sales tax in 12 tax districts.

“Each district would be able to levy a 1 percent tax for up to 10 years,” Fowler said. “That money would stay within the local district.”

Forsyth County is part of the Georgia Mountains Region, which also includes Hall, Dawson, Lumpkin and nine other northeast Georgia counties.

Fowler said it is projected the tax could generate as much as $1.26 billion over the 10-year period, with 75 percent of the total revenue being used for regional projects and 25 percent being split among the counties for local projects.

Fowler noted that all 12 regions earlier this year approved lists of projects that would be funded by the tax, if voters approve.

Regional roundtables were assembled with one representative from each county and city in the area.

Of the some 300 roundtable members throughout the state, Fowler said only three voted against their suggested project lists.

Fowler said an educational campaign created by nonprofit organizations and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce would begin soon.

Also at Thursday’s luncheon, Toussaint gave a brief overview of economic development in Forsyth County in 2011.

He said chamber officials have worked this year on some 14 economic development projects, which have created 855 new jobs and represent nearly $30 million in capital investments.

He said the county is on track to reach 1,000 new jobs by the close of the year.

“That’s amazing in the midst of an economic meltdown,” he said.