“I will be bringing to that meeting next week a recommendation that we go through with putting a referendum on the November ballot this year that would extend the 1 percent sales tax that ends Dec. 31, 2015, for a period of six years,” Lee said on Thursday.
The existing four-year SPLOST, which spans from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2015, is projected to collect $492 million.
A six-year SPLOST is estimated to collect $125 million per year for a total of $750 million.
“Countywide projects would be taken off the top with the remainder being split at approximately a 74 percent to 26 percent split (between the county and its six cities),” said Jim Pehrson, the county’s finance director.
If commissioners and the mayors give their consent, Lee said the Board of Commissioners will take a July 22 vote on a resolution to place the SPLOST before voters in a November 4 referendum.
Shaving $1.2 billion down to $750 million
Lee said the county has a list of needed projects totaling $1.2 billion. He’s given commissioners that list this week, asking them to cut down the amount to $950 million.
“The Board of Commissioners and the staff
are working this week and next to narrow down the project list into a more realistic number, and then once we get together with the cities, the purpose of getting together with the city is saying, ‘This is where we want to go, what joint projects are there,’ things like that,” Lee said.
Between the June 20 meeting with the mayors and the July 22 vote on the project list and resolution, Lee said he plans to schedule a number of town hall meetings to hear from the public on what projects it wants to see included.
Lee said he’s had favorable conversations with all six mayors.
“All have indicated they are supportive of a six-year full-penny SPLOST,” Lee said.
He’s also spoken with the four district commissioners.
“Whereas none of them have committed to a term, I’ve taken away from my meetings with them that we need to go forward with a SPLOST,” he said. “It’s now a matter of going through the list and determining what should be on it or what shouldn’t be on it.”
The proposed SPLOST will be similar to the existing one in that it would pay for “renewal and repair” expenses rather than new buildings, Lee said.
“The theme here is to look at renewal and repair of our existing infrastructure to just keep it up to a level that it needs to be supportive of what’s going on,” he said.
Funding for BRT?
In Sunday’s Marietta Daily Journal, Commissioners Lisa Cupid, Bob Ott and Helen Goreham all said they opposed including a line item in the proposed SPLOST to help pay for a bus rapid transit system the county is studying.
Lee said it wasn’t a good time to poll commissioners on the question because the financials for the BRT, which would connect Kennesaw State University with Midtown Atlanta, have yet to be nailed down.
“We didn’t have the financial model part of that, which I hope to have at the beginning of next week,” Lee said. “And with that additional information, my hopes are commissioners will look at it again and decide whether or not they think that’s something they need to do. I plan to bring it up as a conversation between the Board of Commissioners and the city mayors — because their support would be important as well — to consider whether or not we should move forward.”
On Thursday, Commissioner Bob Ott reiterated his opposition to including BRT funding in the proposed SPLOST.
“As previously stated, I can’t support BRT in SPLOST because I don’t believe in BRT,” Ott said. “My concern would be that if BRT was part of SPLOST it could potentially jeopardize it because I think if you look at the T-SPLOST vote, I think that the public made it very clear that they were not happy with things like that.”
Lee commented on whether he thought including BRT funding in the SPLOST program would jeopardize the tax at the ballot box.
“We have to make that decision as to whether or not the risk associated with it is greater than the benefit that would be derived from doing it,” Lee said.
For his part, Lee is a fan of BRT.
“I always think there’s a strong, strong benefit. It’s just a matter of whether or not everyone else believes it’s A) strong enough to overcome any negative perceptions and B) to what extent is there a risk,” he said. “Those are just things we’re going to have to deal with and talk about.”
Four years for Ott?
When the last SPLOST was proposed, Ott said Lee initially suggested it collect taxes for six years.
“The chairman introduced six, just as he did this time, because that’s the standard fare,” Ott said.
Ott said he and then-Commissioner Thea Powell led the charge to slash the SPLOST down to four years.
“We thought it only needed to be four because we identified about $200 million worth of stuff that we didn’t think were needs,” Ott said.
Ott said he isn’t yet ready to weigh in on whether he supports a six-year SPLOST or a four-year one. A four-year tax would collect about $500 million, Pehrson said.
“SPLOSTs are determined not by saying, ‘I want to have X number of years,’” Ott said. “SPLOSTs are determined by looking at what the needs are of the county and figuring out what those needs cost and figuring out how many years it cost to raise that amount of money.”
Ott said he will have trimmed down the $1.2 billion project list by next week.
“My intent is to go through the list and determine what I think are the needs, and then I’ll figure out what I’m willing to support,” he said.
“And that’s really what the role of the commissioners are, is to make the first swipe through the list and determine what each commissioner thinks is a need, and then you go out to the public hearings and ask them to look at the list and for them to determine what they think is a need, and then you go and you create the final list that then goes out to the public to decide if that’s what they want to support.”