With early voting underway and the March 19 election day rapidly approaching, Catoosa County has published its lists for work it plans to do if voters approve the proposed one-percent transportation tax.
Late last year, Catoosa County and the cities of Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold put the proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) on a March 19 referendum. The tax projects to bring in approximately $60 million in revenue over the next five-year cycle and is supposed to be used for transportation-related roadwork.
In recent weeks, residents have shown up to public meetings held by all three local governments voicing their opinion on the tax.
On Feb. 19, several residents spoke out against the TSPLOST during the Board of Commissioners meeting, and a lot of the concern revolved around not only the financial impact on locals, but also the lack of knowledge about what the plans were for the money.
"You don't have an exact plan for the money, so that makes me think it's going to get washed into some special projects or things that are not actually transportation-related," said resident Sam Martin. "If we had an exact plan of what the money was going to — 'we're going to do this bridge, we're going to do this road, we're going to do x, y, z'... — I would probably feel differently about it. There has not been a clear plan for the money."
A week after that meeting, Catoosa County published lists for not only the county, but the cities of Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold as well.
In a 30-page statement, the county explained how the revenue can be used and what type of projects it plans to work on.
In the funding policy statement, commissioners said, "TSPLOST dollars by law can be used to fund only to following: patching, leveling, milling widening, shoulder preparation, culvert repair, and other repairs necessary for the preservation of roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks and bicycle paths."
Other work that can be done in relation to roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks and bicycle paths includes stormwater and drainage capital outlay projects, acquisition of right-of-way; construction, renovation and improvement of each, relocation of utilities, and improvements related to surface water drainage from roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks and bicycle paths.
With the list Catoosa County provided, there is a caveat: "The list is subject to change as the priorities for roads, bridges, and stormwater change year to year," the statement reads. "The TSPLOST, if passed, would allow our Public Works Department to concentrate on repairing neighborhood roads throughout the county while also maintaining our regular resurfacing program."
With 426.52 miles of road to consider, Catoosa County has plans listed in three different phases.
Phase I of Catoosa County's list focuses on neighborhood road repair and rehab. The list identifies Rolling Hills, The Meadows, Heritage Estates, Hickory Hills, Mountain Brook, Plemons Estates, and Dug Road as the neighborhoods to be worked on first, in addition to stormwater projects, bridge projects, and work on Graysville Road at the railroad tracks if feasible.
Phase II includes Water Mill Trace, Poplar Springs, Baggett Estates, Shannon Drive, Mill Creek.
Phase III lists Cedar Farm, Lindsay Drive, Cherokee Springs, Morris Estates, and Lehon Estates as points of priority.
Each phase of work is projected to cost approximately $14 million, which adds up to $42 million of the $60 million the county is projected to receive over the five-year TSPLOST cycle.
Fort Oglethorpe's projects list
The city of Fort Oglethorpe lists several areas of need, highlighted by the construction of the planned round-a-bout at Mack Smith Road and Steele Road, and constructing a traffic solution for Dietz Road.
Fort Oglethorpe officials also submitted several stormwater projects in its list, such as drainage improvements at Alamar Street, Stuart Road, General Johnson Road, Cindy Circle at Barrett Drive, and Stovall Street. The city also plans to do a hydrological study of the city to establish a prioritized list of other needed stormwater projects.
The city's repaving projects would include Mack Smith Road from Steele Road to the state line, Fant Drive, Thomas Drive, Stovall Street, and the Edgewood subdivision.
Ringgold's projects list
The city of Ringgold's submitted list includes several repaving projects, some stormwater endeavors, and two areas where sidewalks are a huge need.
The city's resurfacing list features Tennessee Street, Robin Road, South Sparks Street, Emberson Drive, Candy Lane, Cotter Street, Clearview Drive, Forest Drive, Hunter Lane, Gladstone Drive, Willowind Lane, Creekview Drive, Canyon Cove, and Lodgestone Drive.
The city also lists stormwater projects along Lamar Street, Tiger Trail, and Meadow Lane.
For years, the city has discusses the sidewalk needs of Boynton Drive, which is listed as one of its two sidewalk projects with Meadow Lane.
When county commissioners and the two city councils entered their intergovernmental agreement in December, they identified a 70/20/10 split of the projected funds.
That breakdown would equate to $42 million for Catoosa County, $12 million for Fort Oglethorpe, and $6 million for Ringgold.
Commissioners have spoken in recent months about how the TSPLOST is an alternative to increasing property taxes.
During the Feb. 19 meeting that includes criticism from so many residents, Chairman Steven Henry defended that claim.
"I want to remind everybody, we were $2.8 million under budget this year. We were $2.4 million under budget last year and we rolled taxes back that last two years," Henry said. "Just to throw out the facts — the millage (property tax) rate went down. The millage rate ... what we control, went down two years in a row."
Residents still have time to vote early on the matter March 11, 12, 13, and 15 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and March 14 from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Final ballots can be cast March 19 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Those planning to vote early can do so at the Freedom Center and Westside voting locations in Ringgold and Rossville; however, on March 19, residents with have to go to their assigned precinct.
Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at ACook@CatoosaNews.com.