Sunday, March 29, 2015

Uncertainty About Future Of Motor Fuels Tax Makes Estimate Of Revenue For Upcoming Oconee County Budget More Difficult

General Assembly Action Expected

The uncertainty regarding the future of Georgia’s fuels tax is having impact locally, as Oconee County officials try to estimate revenue available to balance next year’s budget.

The Georgia Senate and the House have passed differing versions of a Transportation Funding Act of 2015.

Butler's Crossing
3/28/2015

Each increases the fuels tax, though by different amounts, and each changes how local taxes on fuels are calculated, though in different ways.

A conference committee of the Senate and House is working on a compromise.

The issue should be resolved this week, as the General Assembly has two days left in its 40-day legislative session. The House calendar lists those two days as Tuesday and, tentatively, Thursday.

Local Calculations

At the budget work session on Wednesday, Oconee County Finance Director Wes Geddings told the Board of Commissioners that his best projection at present is that the county will have a little less than $23.1 million in revenue in Fiscal Year 2015-2016, which starts on July 1.

The Board of Commissioners has to reconcile that amount with $25.8 million in requests from elected officials and department heads.

More than half of the county’s revenues comes from the 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax, and the county also relies on the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for capital projects. The Board of Education also has a 1 percent Education Local Option Sales Tax.

How these local taxes are to be computed on fuels is in play as the House and Senate try to reconcile their different approaches to raising revenue for the state’s transportation needs.

House Version

The Transportation Funding Act of 2015, called House Bill 170, passed by the House on March 5 converts all of the state motor fuel tax to an excise tax and sets the current rate at 29.2 cents per gallon for gasoline and 33.0 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. The change would go into effect on July 1 of this year.

It also specifies that the excise tax will increase automatically annually as road construction costs increase and as fuel efficiency of vehicles increases.

The version of the bill passed by the House on March 5 allows local governments to continue to collect tax on motor fuels through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes and through Education Local Option Sales Taxes.

The law, however, restricts the use of SPLOST and ELOST tax revenue from motor fuels for transportation.

HB 170 removes the LOST tax from motor fuels on June 30, 2016, meaning there would be some drop in LOST revenue without some other change to LOST. To compensate, the law changes the tax rate for LOST from 1 percent to 1.25 percent. That change would become effective on July 1, 2016.

Senate Version

The Senate version of the bill also converts all of the state tax on motor fuels to an excise tax and sets that rate at 24 cents per gallon, regardless of the type of fuel.

That tax will be adjusted automatically each year to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index.

The Senate bill changes the calculation of SPLOST, ELOST and LOST taxes but does not restrict their use and leave the LOST in place on motor fuels.

At present the local taxes are collected at the wholesale level by the distributors based on calculated costs of the motor fuel.

In the Senate bill, SPLOST, ELOST and LOST would be calculated at the retail level at the rate of 1 percent of the sale price of the motor fuel, with that fuel capped for calculation purposes at $3.39 per gallon.

With gasoline selling at $2.10 per gallon, the House bill would add 8.8 cents to the cost of the gallon if the current wholesale price stayed as it is now.

The Senate bill would add 6.3 cents.

Difficult To Gauge Impact

Oconee County Finance Director Geddings, has said that it is difficult to estimate the impact of the proposed changes in the fuel tax.

The county does not receive data from the Georgia Department of Revenue that allows it to know how much tax any individual retailer or even any type of retailer–or, in this case, wholesaler–is paying.

Geddings told the BOC on Wednesday night that there are many uncertainties that come into play in projecting tax revenue for the coming year.

The uncertainty about the future of motor fuel taxes is just one of them.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Oconee County’s Quick and Williams Cast Opposing Votes On Plastic Bag Bill

Local Rule An Issue

Oconee County’s two members of the Georgia House of Representatives cast opposing votes again yesterday, this time on plastic bags.

Rep. Regina Quick voted with the House majority in turning down Senate Bill 139, which would have prohibited local communities from adopting ordinances to restrict use of plastic bags, boxes, foam cups and other related “one-time use” products.

Quick

Rep. Chuck Williams voted for the bill.

The Senate had passed the “auxiliary containers” bill–Senate Bill 139–by a 32-19 vote on Feb. 26, with Oconee County Sen. Bill Cowsert voting with the majority.

The House vote yesterday was 67 in favor and 85 against, with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Quick and Williams are Republicans, as is Cowsert.

Spencer Frye, Athens-Clarke County’s third House member and a Democrat, also voted against SB 139.

Bill Details

The House vote was on a substitute to the Senate Bill.

Williams

Both versions argued that the legislation was needed because of “the potential for confusing and varying regulations which could lead to unnecessary increased costs for retail and food establishments” in the state.

To prevent that possibility, both versions of the bill said only the legislature could regulate the sale or taxation of “reusable bags, disposable bags, boxes, cups, and bottles which are made of cloth, paper, plastic, extruded polystyrene, or similar materials which are designed for one-time use or for transporting merchandise or food from food and retail facilities.”

The House version of the bill added the clarification that the bill did not restrict commercial recycling or apply to the use of auxiliary recycling containers on property owned by a county or municipality. The Senate version of the bill already had stated that the bill did not restrict county or municipal recycling programs.

Nature of Opposition

Opponents of the bill raised both environmental and home rule concerns.

The Georgia Water Coalition, for example, opposed the bill because “plastic bags end up in our state waters from the mountains to the coast.”

The Georgia Municipal Association, as well as the Georgia Water Coalition, opposed the bill as a preemption of the power of local governments.

Regulation of plastic bags and other similar containers has not been discussed before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

In Athens-Clarke County, however, the issue has come up, with Mayor Nancy Denson actually lobbying for SB 139 and several members of the Commission speaking against it.

Quick And Williams

Quick represents three precincts in Oconee County–Bogart, Malcom Bridge and Athens Academy–as well as small parts of Barrow and Jackson counties and much of western Clarke County.

Williams’ district is split about equally between Clarke and Oconee counties and includes much of the campus of the University of Georgia, where there is an aggressive campus recycling program.

Quick and Williams also cast opposing votes on March 5, when the House approved House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, by 123-46. Williams voted with the majority, while Quick opposed the bill.

The Senate passed a greatly revised version of HB 170 on March 20, by 29-25 margin, with Oconee County’s Cowsert in the majority.

That bill is now in conference committee, with a vote on a compromise bill expected in the remaining two days of the General Assembly this week.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Citizens A Central Part Of Athens-Clarke County SPLOST Programs, Oconee County Audience Told

Library Was Venue

Athens-Clarke County has opted to have extensive citizen involvement in its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program to take advantage of the resources of the community and make sure community values are incorporated in the projects funded.

That was the message both Don Martin, manager of the unified government’s SPLOST program, and former Athens-Clarke County Mayor Gwen O’Looney delivered last night at a meeting at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Georgia Department Of Transportation Told Oconee County Representative To Pay $100,000 In Advance For Documents

Open Records Request

The Georgia Department of Transportation has told Rep. Regina Quick that it will respond to her open records request for documents about the operation of the department, but only if she pays more than $100,000 in advance.

Matthew Cline, general counsel to GDOT, said Quick’s 51-item request, submitted on March 17, would take up to six months to complete, and the Department would not start work until she paid the search and copying costs, as allowed by the state's open records law.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

GDOT Board Member Boswell Acknowledges Benefit To His Clients Of Daniells Bridge Road Flyover In Oconee County

Said Also Benefits 95 Percent Of County

Jamie Boswell, commercial real estate broker and area representative to the Georgia Transportation Board, readily admits that his clients will benefit from the proposed Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover of SR Loop 10.

“I would think it is accurate to say that it would make those properties more attractive for development,” he said. “I would think anybody would agree with that.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Seafood Restaurant Planned For Out Parcel of Epps Bridge Centre, Oconee County Documents Show

Eight Out Parcels Available

Bone Island Grillhouse Restaurants has submitted a preliminary site development plan to the Oconee County Planning Department for construction of a restaurant at the Epps Bridge Parkway entrance to the Epps Bridge Centre.

The new restaurant will occupy one of the 12 out parcels of the shopping center, bringing to four the number of out parcels with a tenant.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oconee County Water And Sewer Rates To Increase By 3 Percent If Budget Request Is Approved

Debt Service Plays Role

Oconee County water and sewer customers will pay an additional 3 percent in rates starting on July 1 if the Board of Commissioners accepts the budget proposed by Public Utilities Director Chris Thomas.

Thomas told the commissioners at a budget hearing on Wednesday evening that he would like to keep the rate the same for those who use the minimum amount of water, but rates for everyone else would go up.