“We can dwell on the fact that the TSPLOST didn’t pass or we can say let’s move forward, let’s see what needs to be done,” said Ken Wright, director of business and industry services at the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce.
Wright said he is staying tuned to the governor’s position and the Department of Transportation’s position in response to the overwhelming failure of the TSPLOST referendum.
“The message is the same; they’re going to determine, the existing priority lists,” Wright said. “Now it’s up to defining what are truly the main priorities.”
The three projects on the Floyd County transportation wish list involved widening of Ga. 140 from U.S. 27 in Armuchee to Interstate 75 at Adairsville, the widening of Ga. 101 from Rome to Rockmart and of course the long languishing U.S. 411 Connector, Route D-VE to Interstate 75 in Cartersville.
But voters in the region said no to the tax.
“We’ve got to get the message to our state legislators, to the governor, to the DOT what is truly the most important for us,” Wright said. The chamber is already working toward that goal through its transportation and governmental affairs committees.
Wright couldn’t help but note a twist of fate in connection with the failed SPLOST vote.
“What’s going to happen across Northwest Georgia now will be what opponents of the TSPLOST feared the most. They didn’t trust that the money would not go to the DOT and they (the DOT) would end up doing their own projects,” Wright said. “By voting against the TSPLOST that’s what they’re going to get. They’ll choose the projects they’re going to build and they’ll build them.”
On top of that, instead of local communities only having to come up with a 10-percent match, Rome and Floyd County will have to come up with a 30-percent match.
State officials called the local match reduction, should SPLOST have been passed, a carrot to induce a pro SPLOST vote.
Opponents call it punishment.
The Ga. 140 project is the perfect example of what the state was trying to do with a regional approach to funding transportation.
Widening of the approximately 15 miles from Armuchee to Adairsville is considered an important project not only to Floyd County, but to Bartow and Chattooga counties as well.
“We’re going to have to lobby hard along with our partners there in Floyd County to get Highway 140 on the governor’s priority list,” said David Tidmore, president and CEO of the Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce. Tidmore suggested that the better than 2-1 no vote did not send a good message to potential industry that citizens were not willing to invest one-cent when industries like Lowe’s in Shannon and Mohawk in Summerville are investing over $100 million in the communities.
Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters called the Ga. 140 project crucial to his community and said the problem will now be rooted in the 30-percent match that will be required by the state. “The projects do not get funded, local governments do not have the 30 percent to match,” Winters said. “We simply have to push projects further and further back.”
The sole commissioner in Chattooga County said he’s got several bridges that he needs to focus on. “To do a 30 percent match on these bridges is going to be $750,000 to $1 million dollars,” Winters said. “Our entire public works department budget is only $1.5 million. This will be a major hardship.”
Summerville City Manager Russell Thompson echoed Winters’ thoughts about the 30-percent match. “We have transportation issues not limited to street resurfacing, but also sidewalk projects that funding would become available for,” Thompson said. “Obviously Highway 140 would have opened the door to promote economic development in this area so we’ll just have to find another way to get that project funded.”
Rome Assistant City Manager Sammy Rich said that at the end of the day there is never enough local money for trans
portation. “Now, to say we’ve got to increase the local match, just flat out it’s going to be a burden,” Rich said. “It means we’re going to have to evaluate project by project and it’s going to be an exercise in prioritization and where do we put our dollars and what’s the most essential need.”
David Newby at Profile Extrusion in Rome said that one of the keys to his success and growth at Profile has been the service he’s been able to give customers. “By that I mean a quick turnaround of orders. Part of that is having a good infrastructure to get it from Point A to Point B,” Newby said.
“It’s disappointing to know that we couldn’t convince the people that infrastructure is need for the industry now, espe-
cially for someone coming in new. They’re going to be thinking about those things, how quickly they can get access to the interstate.”
Up in Summerville, Winters was also disappointed with the loss of the discretionary funds that would have been returned to the counties from the TSPLOST. He said that money could have resulted in the repaving of every mile of county road in Chattooga County on a 10-year cycle.
Wright, at the Rome Chamber, said that if the general public had gotten message about the importance of the specific projects in the individual’s counties across Northwest Georgia, as well as the ramifications of not approving the penny tax, the outcome might have been different.
Winters and Wright both agree that the huge TV budget supporters of the tax in metro Atlanta used probably didn’t help Northwest Georgia tax proponents at all.
“Those TV ads permeated all the other regions. While their focus was primarily on Atlanta, that was part of the misperception,” Wright said. “People in the outlying regions thought this was primarily an Atlanta initiative and it was not.”