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Fayette Commission replies with stormwater answers

In an effort to promote passage of the Core Infrastructure Special Local Option Sales Tax in advance of early voting, the Fayette County Commission has released a list of questions and answers about the proposed tax. The questions and answers have been posted on the county’s website at www.fayettecountyga.gov.

The two-year tax, which would fund $16.8 million in stormwater projects in the unincorporated county, would also provide $14 million in road and cart path maintenance for Peachtree City and $6.7 million for a variety of projects in Fayetteville.

If the tax is approved, the county commission has pledged to halt collection of a stormwater utility fee that is assessed to unincorporated residents for four years. However, if the sales tax fails at the ballot box, the county will stick to collecting the stormwater utility fees, county officials have said.

Neither Peachtree City nor Fayetteville have any such plans to lower stormwater fees charged to property owners in their municipalities.

Because the tax is a countywide initiative, all registered county voters have a say on the matter.

Proponents of the SPLOST contend it will cost less than an increase in property taxes, in part because shoppers from outside of the county will pay the sales tax. Opponents of the tax have said many of the stormwater projects are unnecessary at this time and that the county lacks appropriate planning to determine if the various projects’ scopes are realistic.

If the tax fails, Peachtree City in particular will have to find another way to fund the estimated $1.5 million in revenue needed to repair roads and cart paths each year. For the past eight years, the city has used funds from the 2004 Transportation SPLOST that was approved by voters countywide, but those monies were exhausted this summer.

City Councilman Eric Imker has calculated that the SPLOST would cost residents about $200 a year over the two-year period to fund projects for perhaps five years or more, while a millage rate increase to cover the cost would be about $81 a year on an ongoing basis.

Of the $16.8 million in planned spending on stormwater projects in the unincorporated county, $2.9 million is tabbed for replacement or repair of systems that could endanger property and/or life downstream, particularly with three dams that could fail if not repaired. Another $3.6 million is aimed at stormwater projects that “are in need of immediate attention, and another $7.95 million in projects are categorized as “needing replacement soon.”

Commissioners have bragged that the stormwater projects are all necessary and the proposal contains “no fluff.”

Fayetteville’s project list includes a number of different projects for public safety, stormwater, transportation and water and wastewater services. While that total list includes $9.2 million in projects, the city won’t be able to fund all of them with sales tax proceeds.

The county has approximately $28 million remaining in funds from the 2004 transportation sales tax, but county officials contend they cannot dip into that money to fund stormwater pipe underneath county roads nor repair and maintenance of stormwater structures adjacent to roads designed to prevent the roads from flooding. That’s because the sales tax money can only be used on specific projects listed in the county’s 2003 comprehensive transportation plan.

The county has also looked at creating a special tax district for the unincorporated county to accommodate the necessary funding. But doing so would require a property tax increase of 80 percent over two years to fund the entire $16 million in projects, according to county officials. However, it is possible the county could use a lower tax rate over a longer period of time to build up a substantial amount of money to fund the most important projects within several years while taking care of the lower priorities a number of years down the road.

The county’s stormwater utility fee, instituted for the first time earlier this year on all properties in unincorporated Fayette County, was projected to net $643,000 in fees, though through June 30 only $475,000 has been collected. Those who pay late will face a penalty.

The sales tax, if approved by voters, will get an expected boost from revenue on activity at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in west Fayetteville, which is projected to open in January. Though welcoming a new company of this magnitude with a brand-new sales tax might not be the best idea in some residents’ eyes, the county contends it needs to address stormwater infrastructure problems so it can continue to attract economic development to Fayette County.

The use of a SPLOST for unincorporated stormwater projects in the county stemmed from three town hall meetings the commission conducted after a number of residents decried the implementation of the new stormwater fee late last year. A number of unincorporated county residents wanted city residents to pay the stormwater tax also, since city residents use county roads, but county officials said that was impossible because the county was not proposing to make any stormwater improvements in any of the cities, which have their own stormwater management programs and associated fees already.

The county’s stormwater fee structure is set up so property owners pay for the estimated amount of impervious surfaces on their lot, including not just the home but also a garage, driveway, sidewalks, patios and other improvements. For each 1,000 square feet of impervious surface, the property owner will pay $4.20 a year.

For some residents the fee will top out in the neighborhood of $20, while others will pay more depending on the layout and improvements to their lot. Meanwhile, businesses, churches and schools in the county stand to pay significantly more, particularly if they have large parking lots and other large areas of impervious surface that create stormwater runoff.

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