For starters, the new SPLOST would raise an estimated $750 million over six years. But the list of projects desired by county departments totals more than $1 billion. So right off the bat, scratch $250 million from the wish list. It’s a question of which projects survive, and Cobb commissioners will ultimately decide the priorities.
What about the other big items on the list? The first non-starter for Cobb voters — based on their reaction to the ill-fated TSPLOST — is the proposed rapid transit line from Kennesaw State University to Midtown Atlanta. That’s a $100 million line item and it has predictably drawn fire from Commissioner Bob Ott.
This time, however, the proposed line is not being called bus rapid transit as in the past but it’s described as “a high-capacity multi-modal transit along Cobb Parkway,” per the proposal submitted by the county transportation department. But Ott said, “It appears to me that they’re re-branding it so people don’t realize it’s BRT.” Regardless of what it’s called, Ott said it does not change his mind “that this is not what SPLOST should be used for.”
Commission Chairman Tim Lee says he really believes in the project and it will be up to his fellow commissioners and the mayors of Cobb cities to decide if they want the project at a Friday meeting to discuss the SPLOST wish list. We’ll see.
Ott has problems with two major projects proposed by the public safety department: $55 million for a new Cobb Police Department headquarters and evidence storage, and $52.9 million for a new training facility for police and firefighters. Public Safety Director Sam Heaton says the existing police headquarters is overcrowded, and a new building would allow for needed expansion to accommodate departments such as the 911 center. He says the demand for training has outgrown the training center.
However, Ott makes a valid point: new facilities will not do anything to fix the known problems concerning police officers. “They have concerns about pay,” Ott said. “They have concerns about the vehicles.” Another precinct is needed. The issues revolve around manpower and morale. Yet no SPLOST money can be used for paying police officers; those funds must come from the general fund fueled by other taxes.
Another good point by Ott is after the SPLOST money is divvied up between the county and six cities, Cobb could expect to get about $500 million. If roughly $200 million goes into a rapid transit line and new public safety facilities, it would leave “only” $300 million for other needed (or desired) county projects.
The overriding question is: what package will pass muster with the voters? If the referendum is held in the November general election, as it should be, there will be a much bigger turnout compared with the special elections that favored passage in the past. Any controversial project, i.e., the rapid transit line, could spell defeat for the SPLOST.