About $100 million of the $494 million cost of the proposed BRT system, which would connect Kennesaw State University with Midtown Atlanta, could be paid for with a new special purpose local option sales tax.
County Chairman Tim Lee says he wants to ask voters to approve a new six-year SPLOST in November.
Lee hopes to have commissioners hammer out a project list defining what the new tax would pay for this summer.
Lee said Tuesday another round of SPLOST funds could help pay for the county’s proposed bus-rapid transit system.
A Friday poll asked the five Republican candidates running in the May 20 primary for retiring Commissioner Helen Goreham’s seat, as well as the three candidates running for the seat held by JoAnn Birrell, whether they support using SPLOST revenues for a BRT system.
Angela Barner, a RE/MAX broker associate running for Goreham’s District 1 seat, is not in favor of the BRT plan and said the voters, not politicians, need to decide how to spend tax dollars.
“Sixty-nine percent of Cobb voters voted against the T-SPLOST because the project list was padded with unnecessary and costly projects,” Barner said. “Adding BRT to the proposed SPLOST could cause Cobb voters to defeat the SPLOST and essentially defeat projects that are necessary to reduce traffic congestion and keep Cobb moving forward.”
Bill Byrne, a landscape architect and former county chairman running for District 1, said the number of proposed users for the BRT does not justify the project and if the expense is added to the November SPLOST list, “it is dead in the water.”
Byrne believes the regional bus system was a promise made to the Atlanta Braves.
“I believe the BRT proposal is an attempt by Chairman Tim Lee and the leadership of the Cobb Chamber to get through the back door a project that they couldn’t get through the front door with the TSPLOST in 2012,” Byrne said.
Scott Tucker, retired assistant fire chief and District 1 candidate, said transportation in Cobb is a concern, but the BRT is not cost effective and there are more efficient ways to enhance existing infrastructure.
According to Will Hurst, campaign manager for District 1 candidate Glenn Melson, there are too many concerns about the BRT for a funding source to be discussed.
“There is no convincing data to show we are actually going to have ridership,” Hurst said on behalf of Melson.
Instead, Hurst said Melson is in favor of addressing other transportation concerns, such as creating a perimeter route to take semi-trucks off Interstates 75 and 20 to ease congestion problems.
The only candidate in the District 1 race who wouldn’t say whether he supported or opposed using SPLOST revenues for the bus system was former Acworth City Alderman Bob Weatherford. Weatherford said because all of the details are yet to be worked out he remains undecided.
“I support the people being allowed to vote on projects of this magnitude,” Weatherford said.
Like Weatherford, Birrell is undecided
District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell is being challenged by two Republicans in the May 20 primary, Michael Opitz and Joseph Pond.
Birrell declined to say whether she supports or opposes using SPLOST revenues for BRT, saying she needed more information, although her opponents believe the answer is clear.
“At the end of May, the BOC will vote on the option that is presented,” Birrell said. “The associated costs of the selected project will determine if it is placed on the SPLOST list.”
Opitz, a mediator and arbitrator who is running against Birrell, said more residents will be paying attention to a SPLOST list in November, compared to referendums held outside of general elections in past years.
Opitz said there is a lack of detailed traffic engineering information to substantiate if the BRT plan would work.
“I am baffled at the logical reasoning for this,” Opitz said. “It is not good business…who knows who it will benefit. You always have to follow the money.”
Pond, a master plumber who is running for District 3, said he is not a supporter of SPLOST funding, which he believes the county has become too dependent on.
“I support realistic budgets that take care of the needs and wants of the taxpayers of Cobb County,” Pond said. “This smoke and mirrors, alphabet soup form of taxation is ridiculous.”