VALDOSTA — In 2012, three Georgia regions approved the Regional Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Now, during every Georgia State Transportation Board meeting, Tim Golden, board secretary and former Georgia state senator, said he hears about all of the projects happening in the three regions and how much they have benefitted from T-SPLOST.
“My region, the Valdosta/Lowndes and surrounding counties, voted against it, and I have to watch these presentations,” Golden said. “They show how many projects they had, how many projects they’ve finished. They won’t stop talking about how great it’s been for them. ... Those regions are leaving those that didn’t vote for it, like us, behind.”
Sitting on the state transportation board gives Golden an interesting perspective of the regional sales tax option that is, once again, up for a vote on the May 22 ballot.
A long-time Republican, Golden is skeptical of any tax increase. After seeing all of the improvements from regions that approved the T-SPLOST cent tax in 2012, however, he said he sees it more as a community taking responsibility for its future.
“We have outgrown what we have,” Golden said. “The bottom line is, in order to grow, you have to have the money for it. It has to come from somewhere.”
If passed, the sales tax would increase from 7 cents to 8 cents on the dollar. There are already three other local option taxes within the 7 cents Valdosta and Lowndes County residents pay now.
The tax is expected to generate more than $296 million across the 18 counties in the region to pay for transportation projects.
The money would pay for nine Valdosta projects and 12 Lowndes County projects, including installing an overpass on St. Augustine Road and widening Old Clyattville Road west of the interstate.
Golden said a sales tax is the fairest tax and would impact people coming into the city and county more than local residents.
“Go to the interstate and just watch the number of cars coming through our area,” he said. “Those drivers stop at our gas stations, shop at our stores. They would help pay for the road they use to get here.”
Apart from the tangibles such as new or widened roads, Golden said residents should consider the intangible benefits that come with voting in favor of T-SPLOST. Intangibles such as the goodwill it would bring with the Georgia Department of Transportation. The state transportation department provides millions of dollars for road improvement projects to Valdosta and Lowndes County. Golden said DOT engineers want these projects to make roads safer and easier to travel.
“Approving (T-SPLOST) would show them that we are serious,” he said. “It says we are willing to help ourselves.”
Both Valdosta and Lowndes County leaders agree with Golden that T-SPLOST is the best path forward.
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter stated in a recent column that voting no on T-SPLOST will delay transportation improvement needs in the community for decades and decrease the community’s ability to improve issues related to growth and jobs in South Georgia.
“As a community, we take pride in being considered winners and leaders, it’s an attribute recognized across the state and nation,” Slaughter said. “T-SPLOST is an opportunity for our South Georgia community to improve, to grow, to thrive.”
Valdosta Mayor John Gayle defended T-SPLOST as well. He refuted many misconceptions being circulated, including T-SPLOST would hurt the long-term development of the community.
Gayle said industry and developers are looking for communities willing to provide good roads, bridges and overpasses. They want good transportation for their workers, he said.
He accounted the spreading misconceptions and outright falsehoods to people in the community not wanting to see Valdosta/Lowndes County grow and prosper.
“They want us to remain as we are,” Gayle said. “The only problem with that is if you quit going forward, you start going backwards, and I don’t think that is what the majority of the citizens in Valdosta and Lowndes County want.”
Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256