New Parking Deck OK for residentsPosted: April 23, 2009
“Exciting” typically does not describe county sales tax, but when it funds new parking for weekend shenanigans, even locals get a little giddy.
A county-approved parking deck on West Clayton Street was assigned a developer this month during the April 7 meeting between Mayor Heidi Davison and the Board of Commissioners, according to open records posted on the Athens-Clarke County Web site.
To local resident Sarah Wagner, additional parking means increased opportunity for late night fun.
“I am thrilled about the new parking deck downtown,” Wagner said. “I am sick of driving around for 30 minutes to find a parking spot on a busy Friday night.”
The mixed-use deck will provide 575 additional spaces downtown and 8,000 square feet of commercial space. Who will utilize the commercial space is not immediately apparent.
For UGA student Brian Miller, utilizing the deck for classes is an interesting option, but a hollow solution due to the cost. The deck will not be free, and parking revenue will pay the operating costs and construction debt lent by the Athens Downtown Development Authority for the project.
While campus parking is typically more expensive than parking tickets downtown, other opportunities exist closer to campus for less money.
“The parking is no immediate benefit for me, because I can pay $100 and park on campus,” Miller said. “If it were free then I would definitely park there instead of the shell station.”
The deck is funded in part by the county’s SPLOST fund, as well as $5.1 million of ACC backed debt by the ADDA. The SPLOST allocation is $6.7 million, and the total project cost is estimated at approximately $12.1 million, according to public documents.
The SPLOST program, or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is a 1 percent tax added to all sales in Athens-Clarke County. The penny increase currently funds 33 public projects with guaranteed funding for a five year “term”.
Continuation of the tax is voted on by the public following each term, and new projects are broken into three categories: public safety, basic facilities / infrastructure and quality of life. Projects are chosen by the Board of Commissioners with input from the community.
A project’s life cycle is planned, and each phase is discussed and voted upon by the board and mayor.
The tax offsets the costs of public projects typically paid for by property tax payers. According to the Athens-Clarke County Web site on SPLOST, as of 1998, 18,000 workers commute to the county each day. Utilizing the revenue gained by non-residents, the county can attempt projects at a decreased cost to the community.
Other projects slated for the 2004-2009 SPLOST term include relocation of the solid waste facility on College Station Avenue to Hancock Industrial Road, and sidewalk and pavement improvement programs.
“It’s a penny on every dollar, which is not a lot to pay,” Miller said. “If it’s going to provide extra parking and erase the terrible smell from a prominent part of town, then I think it’s worth 1 percent.”
Miller felt additional initiatives were equally important even if they did not directly affect his daily activities. Improved walkways downtown will help those in need of surer footing.
“People who it is being improved for will notice it,” Miller said.
As for Wagner, the Athens First Bank teller is genuinely excited for decreasing her downtown commute time.
“I don’t mind paying a little bit if it means that the downtown parking situation will be a much smaller headache,” Wagner said.