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Purcell urges teamwork to help Effingham County meet transportation needs
Ann R. Purcell
Georgia Department of Transportation Board Chair Ann R. Purcell touts the single-county T-SPLOST at Jekyll Island in 2019.. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
Looking at the future, we have to start now to get to the place we want to go.
Georgia Department of Transportation Board Chair and Rincon resident Ann R. Purcell

JEKYLL ISLAND — The urgency of Ann R. Purcell’s words couldn’t be missed. Her message during the 2019 Community Retreat at the Jekyll Island Club on Friday was delivered with passion and clarity.

Purcell, a Rincon resident and the chair of the Georgia Department of Transportation Board, urged the audience of leaders from the public and private sectors in Effingham County to unite and work toward the passage of a T-SPLOST. She believes a sales tax designed for transportation purposes is crucial.

“Looking at the future, we have to start now to get to the place we want to go,” Purcell said.

Effingham, one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties, is in danger of falling way behind in its infrastructure needs. Purcell applauded the chamber for looking beyond the immediate horizon.

The theme of the retreat was “Effingham 2029.” 

Purcell lamented the fact that Effingham County voters didn’t approve a regional T-SPLOST referendum in 2012.

“That was one of the things that I think taught us a lesson — that we can sit back on our duffs and not get anything done or we can be straightforward, be united and we can try to get something passed.”

Purcell is hopeful that the electorate will support a T-SPLOST designed solely for Effingham County. She said that the need for one was made clear by previous retreat speakers, including representatives of the governments of Guyton, Rincon, Springfield and Effingham County.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a single-county TSPLOST option in 2015. It allows individual counties that are not part of a regional effort to levy a sales tax solely dedicated for transportation purposes.

“If we don’t pull together, we will be pulling apart and we won’t get anything done, and we won’t get anything passed,” she said.

Bryan, Bulloch and Ware counties have gone chosen the single-county T-SPLOST route. Ware County also has a regional T-SPLOST.

“We have those close contacts that we can work with in those counties and go forward,” Purcell said.

It is up to the Effingham County Board of Commissioners to call for a single-county T-SPLOST referendum.

“It is totally for transportation, ONLY for transportation,” Purcell said. “And as you approach that idea and working together with the elected officials, that is where we’ve got to come together and show our county, our voters, that we are together on this project — that we are not a split group thinking that, ‘Well, somebody is going to get a little bit money than I am going to get’ because we are all going to benefit from a sales tax.”

Purcell said a series of public hearings have to be conducted before a T-SPLOST referendum can be placed on the ballot. It is also requires a list of transportation projects jointly approved by the county commission and municipal governments.

“I’m all for (the T-SPLOST) but we’ve got to sell the point,” Purcell said. “... It’s going to include roads, bridges, streets, all the sidewalks and bikeways.”

The length of time that the tax would be in effect also has to be determined in advance, Purcell said.

“That would be determined by the county but most of the time it’s going to be five years,” she said.

That tax rate doesn’t have to be one percent, Purcell added.

“In that referendum, it is going to be stated what amount will be charged, how long it will last and the list of available projects,” she said.

Purcell also said that is important that the fruits of transportation dollars emerge as soon as possible.

“We’ve got to make sure that we show our voters that we are good stewards of our money — which we are — but we need to put that money on those projects and we need to have dirt turned. That is what they understand about planning.

“When I say ‘construction,’ they think we have a big bulldozer out there and the dirt is being turned, but you folks know that is not the case. The case is that there are so many factors and things that have to be done before you can see that part of construction.”

Purcell said T-SPLOST supporters must work to overcome the notion that current transportation projects are progressing too slowly or are stalled.

“For us to be able to sell the T-SPLOST, it is important that (voters) be able to see the action that we have been talking about the last four or five years,” she said.

Purcell recommended that local officials use the news media to share transportation success stories, including roundabout additions. She also suggested establishing a slate of speakers that can answer T-SPLOST questions at area club meetings and community events.

“If we don’t do that, we are defeating our purpose,” she said

Purcell reminded the audience that approval of a T-SPLOST wouldn’t preclude Effingham County from receive state revenue for transportation projects. It has received $3.42 million in Local Maintenance & Improvement grants over the last four years and more than $1 million is available in fiscal year 2020.

“You depend on it already,” she said. “That is very vital to us.”