If county commissioners want to extend the tax for another four years so collections remain uninterrupted, then November would be the last opportunity to hold a referendum during a general election. An alternative is to schedule a special election sometime next year, Lee said Tuesday during a commission work session.
A special election could take place in 2015, but that would cost the county an extra $500,000, something Lee said he doesn’t favor.
“If we have an opportunity to do it in November and there is consensus to do it in November, it makes sense to have it when we’re already spending the $500,000 for general elections as opposed to another half a million,” Lee said.
The county’s existing four-year SPLOST, approved by voters in March 2011, is expected to collect $492 million.
During that 2011 referendum there were 390,930 registered Cobb County voters. Yet only 21,552 voted yes and 21,462 voted no, passing the tax by a mere 90 votes. Turnout was a paltry 11 percent of registered voters.
The 2011 SPLOST was focused on updating existing infrastructure instead of new construction.
Lee said commissioners will learn at an April retreat what items a future SPLOST may fund.
“At the retreat, we are going to learn that we still have an incredible need for our capital maintenance plan, and we’re going to look at options as to how to fund that,” Lee said. “The special purpose local option sales tax is the most efficient and effective way of paying for these capital, pay-as-you-go, cash-in-hand projects, and it looks as if we’ll probably have to consider that sooner than later.”
Over the next 60 days Lee said the county will work in concert with Cobb’s six cities to determine what the projects may be as well as the potential length of the SPLOST, Lee said.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who is up for re-election this year, said after the meeting this was the first she’d heard about extending the tax.
Birrell said she opposed holding a future SPLOST referendum during a special election whatever was decided.
As for whether she believes extending the special tax is needed, that is a decision for voters, she said.
“I don’t take a stance one way or the other,” Birrell said. “I’ve seen a lot of good things that have come out of the SPLOST like DOT projects but there again we’ve had SPLOST for many years and there’s a lot of folks that feel that it’s time to give it a rest and there’s others that see the benefit so it’s up to the people to decide. I don’t take a stance personally.”
Lee is not shy about where he stands.
“My preference is to utilize a seamless SPLOST to meet the needs of our capital improvement,” Lee said.