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Gwinnett County voters to face two sales tax proposals Nov. 3: Transit, education

David Pendered
Norcross High School opened in 2001 after being built with proceeds of an education sales tax, which the school district is asking voters to extend. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Gwinnett County voters are to face two sales tax proposals on the Nov. 3 ballot. One would extend the 1 percent sales tax for education to 2027. One would establish a 1 percent sales tax to expand transit to extend for 30 years – and possibly extend heavy rail from MARTA’s Doraville Station to Gwinnett Place Mall.

Gwinnett County voters face a 1 percent sales tax referendum to build a transit system west of I-85. Credit: David Pendered

Gwinnett voters have a long record of endorsing a sales tax to fund education-related expenses – comprised of school buildings, educational equipment and other items. Buford City Schools also will receive funding if the measure is approved.

Gwinnett voters have not yet approved a transit tax. Three proposals have failed, in 1971, 1990 and March 2019.

Here’s a snapshot of the two proposals:

Gwinnett County Transit Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax

Gwinnett County’s Board of Commissioners voted July 21 to call a referendum for a transit tax that is to last up to 30 years and generate a projected $12.8 billion to pay for a network of heavy rail, bus rapid transit and bus service. Details are presented in the county’s project list.

The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Tommy Hunter casting the No vote. Hunter is not seeking reelection to a district that stretches along the entire length of the county’s eastern border.

Gwinnett Commissioner Marlene Fosque voted for the referendum after voting against the project list during a meeting in June. Fosque said she was voting on behalf of constituents who want to expand bus service immediately and not start allocate money to start building a long-range heavy rail line to be built from Doraville to Norcross and then Duluth, a process that could take decades. Fosque represents a district that extends from Lawrenceville west and northwest through Duluth and Buford.

Fosque’s vote addressed the largest investment on the project list – a heavy rail to be extended from MARTA’s Doraville Station to Gwinnett Place Mall. The price on this project represents 28 percent of the entire proceeds expected over 30 years. The project is to be built in two phases:

  • $1.5 billion – “Extension of MARTA heavy rail into western Gwinnett and construction of a new Multimodal Hub near Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The hub would accommodate Heavy Rail, Bus Rapid Transit, Express Commuter, Direct Connect, and Local buses.”
  • $2.1 billion – “Second extension of MARTA heavy rail from the Multimodal Hub to Gwinnett Place Mall.”

Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax

Norcross High School opened in 2001 after being built with proceeds of an education sales tax, which the school district is asking voters to extend. Credit: David Pendered

The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted June 18 to approve a joint resolution with Buford City Schools to call a referendum to extend the 1 percent sales tax for education.

The existing 1 percent E-SPLOST expires June 30, 2022. The ballot measure calls for extending the tax through June 30, 2027. The school board called the vote for this November in order to present it during a high-turnout general election, according to information in an email from the district.

Estimates project the sales tax revenues would generate a total of $984.6 million. Of this, Gwinnett County Public Schools would receive an estimated $957.1 million. Buford City Schools would receive an estimated $27.5 million.

Gwinnett intends to use the money to build a new school, improve seven existing schools, and purchase equipment. The construction list the school district provided includes:

New school:

  • A middle school is to be built in the Archer cluster, located in the burgeoning area northeast of Snellville and east of Lawrenceville;

Additions and/or renovations at:

  • Archer High School;
  • Gwinnett High School;
  • Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology.
  • Harbins Elementary School;
  • North Gwinnett High School;
  • Shiloh Middle School;
  • Trickum Middle School;

The equipment list includes resources to support virtual learning; technology improvements; school buses; classroom instructional materials; and the usual maintenance projects including roofing and HVAC.

Buford City Schools identified the following projects to be funded with proceeds of a sales tax referendum that was to be on the March 24 ballot, which was rescheduled because of the pandemic:

  • Pay bond referendum for Buford High School;
  • Acquiring, constructing and equipping new schools;
  • Constructing and equipping additional classrooms and instructional support space;
  • New athletic facilities;
  • Improving existing educational facilities.
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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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