Some DeKalb County officials are hopeful that a regional transportation sales tax could be the shot in the arm the county needs to resurface many roads in need of repair.
According to Ted Rhinehart, deputy chief operating officer of DeKalb’s infrastructure group of departments, the state of the county’s roads is bleak.
There are 2,200 miles of roads that have been identified as in need of resurfacing within the county. DeKalb’s budget allows the county to pave just 40 miles per year.
“I call our resurfacing program the bleeding ulcer of county government,” Rhinehart told residents at the Ashford Alliance’s April 26 meeting. “It’s deteriorating quickly and it’s something we have to deal with.”
Low tax revenues have left DeKalb County with little money in its maintenance budget.
DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said the county is limited in the ways it can fund road maintenance.
“Fulton and DeKalb are unique because we have a transportation sales tax in the form of a MARTA penny. We hit the ceiling that prevents us from putting a special purpose local option sales tax before our voters,” Rader said. “We don’t have the mechanism that many other areas use to keep their roads in good repair.”
The only dedicated funding the county has available for road maintenance is 20 percent of the homestead option sales tax, a one-cent sales tax that requires 80 percent of the funds raised go toward reducing property taxes.
Rhinehart is hoping that a proposed regional transportation sales tax will be approved to help bolster the county’s road maintenance budget.
Rhinehart recognized that while there will be a “good healthy debate” over the potential sales tax, it would be a huge relief for DeKalb if it becomes a reality.
Rhinehart said in addition to regional transportation projects, the sales tax would provide an estimated $12 million per year directly to DeKalb County for local road projects.
“That would make a big dent in our resurfacing program,” Rhinehart said.
In March, DeKalb County submitted a list of projects to be considered for the regional sales tax. This summer, a regional round table will consider potential projects submitted by all the counties in the region and pare it down to a list that will be put before voters.
Rader said it is yet to be seen if the list of projects will be in DeKalb’s best interest.
“What we really have to do is get a project list that is strong enough and appealing enough that (residents) will be willing to vote for another penny of sales tax on everything they buy,” Rader said.
He believes DeKalb taxpayers pay a disproportionate burden due to the county’s location.
“Because of the location for DeKalb in this region, there are an awful lot of people who don’t have DeKalb plates who use DeKalb roads to get where they’re going,” Rader said. “It’s really part of the regional road system. I think there’s very good reason for this region to invest in our roads because they use them.”