Except for those conducting the meeting, not a single citizen was present at the T-SPLOST forum held Monday of this week at Southern Crescent Technical College. This was the third forum hosted by the Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce, Three Rivers Regional Commission, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and local city and county officials and while none have drawn a packed house, the lack of involvement has many concerned.
“I am surprised that we haven’t had many calls with questions from the community,” said Chamber President Lori Smith. “A few have called because they didn’t really understand what the money would be used for, but as far as knowing what the general population is thinking… we have no clue.”
Mayor Hays Arnold echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying that he is afraid the lack of turnout is a sign that people are turning away from any form of tax, even if it is one that will benefit the community greatly.
The priority project selected for Upson County on the region’s project list is the widening of Highway 36 from Thomaston to I-75. Both Arnold and County Commission Chairman Maurice Raines have previously stated this is a project which would not only benefit the area now, but also for years to come. It would greatly help by providing a direct route to the interstate for the industries already in town and be a selling point when attracting new industries. However, if the regional sales tax does not pass, Upson County can kiss that project goodbye.
The fact of the matter is the cost of such a large scale project makes it basically impossible for the community to raise the money for it on their own. Raines noted that it would take at least 20 regular SPLOST to even come close to funding the project, which will cost roughly $84 million. GDOT has agreed to put $30 million in federal money towards the project, with Upson County’s portion totaling $32.5 million. The remaining funding will come from Lamar, Pike and Heard counties.
Upson County is part of the 10-county Three Rivers Region, which in addition to this community is made up of Lamar, Butts, Spalding, Pike, Troup, Meriwether, Coweta, Carroll and Heard. The region is expected to generate $984 million in funding from the T-SPLOST over the 10-year period. Upson and all its’ municipalities anticipate receiving $14.2 million in discretionary funding over the 10 years, which will equal out to roughly $1.3 million a year. The discretionary funding can be used for any project that has to do with transportation, which could include anything from repaving roads and rebuilding bridges to constructing a bike path.
Lanier Boatwright, Executive Director for the Three Rivers Regional Commission stated that the T-SPLOST will do more in funding projects for the region than state and federal money combined.
“We looked at a period of five years to figure out the average funding we receive on the state and federal levels and what we will get from this T-SPLOST brings in five times the amount of what we get from each of those combined,” said Boatwright.
Mayor Arnold concurred with Boatwright adding that of all the people he has talked to about the T-SPLOST who were against it at first, they all changed their mind after learning the real facts and benefits it will bring to this community.
Raines posed the following questions to the citizens of Upson County at the close of the meeting.
“Do you, as a local tax payer, want to foot the bill for everything? Or do you want to let anyone who comes into not only our community, but also our region to help? We have worked for two years on the T-SPLOST and have tried to inform the public about the good that it will do, but if you don’t support it, then give us a plan B.”