DeKalb voters asked to pay for road repairs

One pothole at a time, crews do a patchwork job of repairing DeKalb County’s worn-down roads.

The county repaired 4,457 potholes last year — the most ever in a year — filling them with asphalt as a makeshift fix.

But DeKalb officials say the solution to its persistent pothole problem is to repave streets entirely, a daunting task in a county with 417 miles of roads in need of resurfacing.

“Filling potholes is just a Band-Aid to what’s really needed,” said Peggy Allen, DeKalb’s associate director of the Roads and Drainage Division. “Right now, we’re playing catch-up.”

DeKalb’s elected leaders are preparing to ask voters to approve an additional 1 percent sales tax that would be dedicated to roads and other infrastructure.

The special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) is planned for November’s ballot, and if approved, it will generate about $100 million a year.

Currently, DeKalb spends $6.7 million a year on road work, which was enough to fill potholes and repave more than 25 miles of roadways last year but not sufficient to significantly decrease the backlog of needed road work. An average pothole can cost between $300 and $500 to repair.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May said the county can’t properly address the problem without the additional money. It would cost $176 million to erase the county’s resurfacing backlog — more than $400,000 per mile.

“It’s not because of any negligence, but we just don’t have the dedicated funding stream,” May said. “The SPLOST funding stream would allow us the ability to not just fill potholes, but allow us to handle the real work that needs to be done, which is resurfacing our roads.”

DeKalb residents frequently complain about potholes and want something done about them, said Commissioner Stan Watson.

“When you drive on a pothole, and that pothole causes damage to your car, that’s when I really hear from my constituents,” Watson said. “We’ve done a yeoman’s job with the funding we have. … We have to look at additional funding sources.”

DeKalb’s resources for transportation projects have steadily shrunk in recent years, in part because of a complicated formula that distributes property tax proceeds between the county and its cities. Since the cities of Dunwoody and Brookhaven have formed, the county’s share of annual capital funding has declined from $20 million to about $4 million.

“We’re doing a great job of filling the potholes, but that’s a temporary fix,” said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton. “The most important thing is to get the roads repaved and to find a funding source.”

The SPLOST would raise DeKalb’s sales tax rate to 8 percent, putting it on the same level as the city of Atlanta and Clayton County. Fulton, Henry and Rockdale counties have a 7 percent sales tax; Cobb and Gwinnett counties charge 6 percent.

Money raised by the additional tax could go toward road repaving, fire station renovations and a new police precinct, May said. A citizen advisory panel will recommend a project list in the next few months.

The SPLOST referendum will be combined with another ballot question that would dedicate a greater portion of existing sales taxes to reducing residential property tax bills, saving homeowners about $113 million over the next five years, according to the county.

By the numbers

Average cost to fill a pothole: $300 to $500

DeKalb’s road resurfacing backlog: 417 miles

Per mile resurfacing cost: More than $400,000

Cost to clear the backlog: $176 million

DeKalb’s proposed sales tax rate: 8 percent

Projected SPLOST revenue: $500 million over five years

Source: DeKalb County

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