FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Cities behind an effort to extend the Fulton County transportation sales tax may get a bigger windfall than first expected.
Fulton County Public Works Director David Clark reported May 7 that updated estimates through Georgia State University anticipate the sales tax will bring in about $25 million more than earlier estimates.
The .75-cent transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or TSPLOST, was first passed in 2016 by Fulton County voters in the 13 cities outside Atlanta, which has its own transportation tax. The tax runs until next March and will have generated an estimated $500 million in revenue for transportation projects in the 13 cities.
Early estimates predicted that renewing the five-year tax would generate about $525 million in revenue. New estimates push collections to $554 million.
That means more money for cities to spend on street upgrades, sidewalks and other transportation projects. The money will be distributed to cities based on population, putting Sandy Springs, Roswell and Johns Creek atop the list for funding. The exact share each city receives, however, won’t be determined until 2020 Census figures are released later this year.
Right now, most of the cities appear on board with a ballot issue this November.
Meanwhile, cities are under the gun to develop their own project lists to fund with the money. They have until June 15 to complete their lists so the county can make preparations to have the issue on the ballot.
Clark said he has spoken with public works officials in all the cities, and each is developing a project list. He said plans appear to be proceeding well to meet all the requirements to have a county resolution drafted by Aug. 2 that would place the sales tax vote on the November ballot.
Cities prepare lists in a tiered system, with the top tier representing those projects that could be funded if the sales tax brings in 85 percent of projected revenues. A second and third tier list ranks tier lists projects to fund if collections come in greater than 85 percent of projections.
Roswell Transportation Director Muhammad Rauf said the city is closing in on a list of projects it hopes to fund with the estimated $73.3 million it would likely receive if tax collections come in at 85 percent of estimates. If revenues come in at 100 percent of estimates, the city would receive $94.7 million.
The draft list, he said, has been formulated through a public survey conducted in the spring and discussions at two meetings of the Transportation Committee with staff in March and April.
Right now, Rauf said, the master list has about 70 named projects which will have to be culled to a reasonable amount.
In that light, members of the City Council scored each project according to preference, and the top-tier list now stands at about a dozen projects earmarked for primary funding. Items lower on the list could be funded if more sales tax money pours in.
Tops on the list are improvements along Riverside Road from Riverside Park to Old Alabama Road. Along with intersection upgrades, the $8.7 million project includes bike and pedestrian paths to the river with connection to the Big Creek Greenway.
Two other projects that drew high consensus were multi-use trails on Dogwood Road from Riverside Road to Grimes Bridge Road and on Old Alabama from Market Boulevard Holcomb Woods Parkway. Both projects combined are estimated at about $3.4 million.
The most expensive project on the list, ranking fourth in consensus among council members, is just over 2 miles of corridor improvements on Grimes Bridge, Dogwood and Old Dogwood roads. That project comes with a total cost of $10.5 million.
Rauf asked the City Council last week to review the list and make any adjustments soon so a final list can be sent out to the public for feedback before the May 26 Transportation Committee meeting.
Officials in Alpharetta began discussing their TSPLOST II list at the first of the year. By the end of April, they had pretty much locked in 13 top projects.
That list didn’t change at Monday’s City Council meeting, but the price tags did. And the council added another entry to its list of lower tier projects.
Public Works Director Pete Sewczwicz said he has been in touch with primary project consultants who have advised that spikes in materials like steel and concrete will probably absorb the $1.9 million in extra revenue the tax will bring the city.
Right now, consensus is strong the city will spend the lion’s share of the estimated $52 million it expects in first-tier funding on widening Webb Bridge Road and improvements to the North Point Parkway corridor.
Along those lines, City Councilman Ben Burnett won consensus to add another project – a pedestrian tunnel near Haynes Bridge Road and North Point Parkway – to the list of Tier 3 projects.
The funding for preliminary work is set at $500,000.
“I think strategically, it would be a good thing to be able to show that we had on a TSPLOST list, should there be some sort of large infrastructure bill that happens to come down from the federal government,” Burnett said.
City officials in Johns Creek have reached a consensus on the types of transportation projects they will pursue with transportation tax dollars. But the City Council is not tipping its hand on specifics.
Rather than identify exact roads, bridges or sidewalks, the city has created a roster of “buckets” — general transportation-related categories in which to assign the TSPLOST II money.
The city ran into some headwaters in the early months of the first TSPLOST when City Council members disagreed over whether the city was bound to the wording in the original project list adopted for the referendum. Some argued that conditions and public sentiments should guide projects as they develop. Others argued the adopted designs were what the public voted on in the referendum, and they should not be altered.
Johns Creek is lukewarm to the tax anyway. In 2016, the TSPLOST referendum garnered barely enough votes to pass citywide, winning by about a dozen votes, or .02 percent. The margin in favor of the tax passed countywide by a much greater margin, 52.7 percent to 47.3.
Right now, the city is intent on seeing a large share of the sales tax funding go to implementation and development of its new stormwater utility.
The City of Milton held an interactive forum May 11 to garner citizen input on projects they would like to see addressed with the estimated $36 million the city can expect from a sales tax renewal. All through May, the city has solicited input online from residents.
The City Council held a work session Monday to consider its project list, and it is set for adoption May 24.
Milton is expected to complete 3 miles of sidewalks, six roundabouts, one bridge and various other road and intersection upgrades with the $32 million it expects to have collected over the course of the first sales tax.
So far, the main consensus among council members for the new money has centered on improvements to Cox Road.