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Transportation sales tax going to Newton voters
County commissioners approve last-minute revenue-sharing agreement with cities
Covington traffic
Traffic flows through the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 278 and Emory Street in Covington. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — Residents and motorists could see transportation projects ranging from intersection improvements to new bicycle trails countywide if voters approve a new sales tax in November.

The Newton County Commission on Thursday, July 23, voted 4-1 to ask that a referendum on a new 1% sales tax for transportation projects be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.

If approved, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) could raise $56 million over five years that would be reserved only for transportation projects.

Commissioners also voted 4-1 to approve a revenue sharing agreement with the county’s six cities based roughly on past sales tax sharing plans that divided the funds based on population.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said during the meeting that county residents often told her and other commissioners about the need for new road projects.

“Any time we can give the citizens the opportunity to determine whether they want to impose a tax … we have a responsibility to do that,” Schulz said. “They can decide whether or not they want it.”

The lone “no” vote came from District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards. 

He said after the meeting he was concerned about making retailers readjust their profit margins during a time of economic uncertainty by adding a fourth 1% sales tax in Newton County.

“My constituents don’t want another SPLOST,” he said. “Where’s your end? It seems like government always needs more money.”

But he also said if revenue for government services was needed, a consumption tax was better than other forms of taxation. 

County Manager Lloyd Kerr had told commissioners they needed to approve the request for a referendum by July 23 to meet a deadline for placing it on the Nov. 3 ballot.

To impose a 1% TSPLOST, state law required all five cities within Newton County to be part of an intergovernmental agreement to share in the proceeds and pay for transportation projects they publicly specified. 

The money will be shared based on an agreed formula that had been used with past sales tax collections generally based on population.

If all cities did not agree to participate, the referendum could only have called for a 0.75% sales tax, cut the amount of money collected by 25% to $42 million, and decrease some cities’ shares dramatically, Kerr said. 

Mansfield City Council agreed to participate late Thursday afternoon before county commissioners voted Thursday night.

Kerr said the county and the five other cities agreed to more than double Mansfield’s final share to $800,000 — with the extra money coming from the county’s share — to help convince Mansfield council members to reconsider a Monday, July 20, vote not to participate.

Covington will receive 18.47% — about $10.3 million — and its city council on Monday, July 20, approved how the funds would be put to use.

For roads, a total of $5.75 million would be allotted to general safety improvements, intersection improvements and paving. 

A total of $1 million would be set aside for implementation of the city’s Airport Master Plan; $1 million to public parking and infrastructure projects; and $750,000 for sidewalks and paved trails.

A total of $1.5 million would go to bridge construction and maintenance, including plans for a new pedestrian bridge on Emory Street over I-20.

The county government’s share for projects in unincorporated Newton is projected to be about $41.6 million and includes intersection improvements and paving, among other things.

It also includes money for a limited public transit system and District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason said the referendum would gauge interest in funding mass transit. 

“I do know for individuals that are unemployed or underemployed, they generally have a challenging time of getting around,” Mason said. “Sometimes, that prevents them from getting to their workplace.”

If approved, those shopping in Newton County would pay a total of 8% sales tax, including the 1% TSPLOST, 1% SPLOST, 1% Local Option Sales Tax, 1% Education SPLOST, and a 4% state sales tax.

Publisher and Editor Taylor Beck contributed to this report.