MOULTRIE -- Many Colquitt Countians may routinely take the road less traveled, but part of the reason they're shunning some of those roads could be that they're in bad repair -- an issue that has caught the attention of Colquitt County Grand Jury.
On Sept. 18, voters could give a shot in the arm to road building projects with a proposed sales tax. Of the $24 million in revenue projected from the tax, more than $14 million would go to road, street, bridge and drainage projects in the county and its municipalities.
In its most recent presentments, a committee of the Colquitt County Grand Jury noted that passage of the tax is critical to needed road repair.
"Tax revenues are down this year and funds are not available for needed repairs and upkeep of county roads," the presentments said. "Costs for repair and upkeep are higher due to heavier travel and increased weight requirements for vehicles. Vehicles now weighing 86,000 pounds now travel our county roads regularly."
County Commission Chairman Max Hancock said if this sales tax fails, the county has no more money to do road construction.
"I think it's imperative that we get it or we are out of the road construction business. We desperately need money to do roads," Hancock said.
The county has turned a corner of sorts in the last couple of years, for the first time having more miles of paved roads -- 459 miles --than of the dirt variety -- 433 miles.
However, officials said that failure to pass a 1-percent special local option sales tax in September could lead to more deteriorated roads and bridges.
Since a 1994 SPLOST was approved by voters, the county has paved or resurfaced 64.5 miles of its roads. That work was done with a significant infusion of state funds. The county also has repaired bridges and culverts with SPLOST and state funds.
But since the state has been forced to use more of its share of road money to match federal funds, counties and cities have gotten less and less money for their roads, officials said.
The proposed sales tax includes $10.7 million for county roads and bridges. Of that, Hancock said he would like at least $1 million to be used for resurfacing and widening of existing roads.
Moultrie would receive $3 million for paving and repairing streets, roads and bridges. Other cities also have road funds included -- $35,000 for Funston, $50,000 in Ellenton, $170,694 for Norman Park and $36,680 for resurfacing in Riverside.
The sales tax also includes $5 million for purchasing land for an industrial park, developing the park and a speculative building at the site; $1.36 million for renovating a building for the Moultrie Police Department; $873,000 for renovating the Moultrie Municipal Building and $650,000 for improvements of Moultrie recreational facilities.
Other county projects include expanding the Moultrie-Colquitt County Library ($250,000), constructing administrative space for the Colquitt County Sheriff's Department ($272,000), a records repository and Sunset Airport improvements (each $250,000) and funding for renovating the Museum of Colquitt County History ($100,000).
"That's the biggest dog the county government has in the fight that we have on the sales tax issue," Hancock said of roads. "We, the county government, have a great need for this. It's terribly important that this thing continues so we have money for roads."
The city also has a great need for road money, City Manager Tony Rojas said. In most of Georgia's counties, he said, the city or county government has a permanent 1-percent sales tax that helps with operational expenses.
Since the city does not have that money it would have to raise property taxes significantly to fund road projects, and even that would not have as great an impact as the SPLOST, Rojas said.
"Our general fund doesn't have money for streets," he said. "It's kind of embarrassing as a city manager to say this, but we have some bad roads in Moultrie."
-- By Alan Mauldin
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