Three weeks after Augusta-area voters approved a 1-cent sales tax for transportation investment, the Georgia Department of Transportation is already warning local leaders to prepare for funding and scheduling contingencies.
Revenue projections, which were calculated before the July 31 referendum, can likely change and construction schedules will depend on the incoming funds, department leaders said Tuesday.
Deputy Commissioner Todd Long met with city and county leaders from the 13-county Central Savannah River Area region for the first time since the area passed the tax. Augusta’s region was one of three in the state that passed the tax; nine others voted it down.
Because the state economist’s revenue projections are largely dependent on economic conditions, Long said each project design should have room for change.
“In case revenues dip and you don’t have the available funds you think you may have, sometimes there might have to be a scale back in the project design,” Long said. “We don’t anticipate that, but we have to keep that notion in front of us because we have to deliver the project.”
Under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which created the referendum, all 84 projects in the region must be completed by 2023. Revenue will be distributed by the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission.
“Over 10 years, there’s no telling what kind of things we’ll be faced with,” said Russell McMurry, the DOT’s engineering director. “Things change in 10 years.”
Russell said the department recommends the CSRA Regional Planning Commission become advisers to help shuffle any changes.
Department leaders reiterated several times during the meeting the importance of delivering the projects on time and on budget. Gov. Nathan Deal and voters are carefully watching the massive tax investment for proper handling of funds, they said.
Long said annual audits for every city and county, which are already required, will make sure the funds are spent correctly.
Each construction project cannot begin until sufficient revenue has been collected. Collection of the 1-cent sales tax begins Jan. 1. The first month’s revenues should be allocated to cities and counties March 1.
Budgeting, scheduling and administration – duties typically performed by the DOT – will be outsourced to a program manager, said Mike Dover, the department’s administrator for the tax program.