Commissioners voted 4-1, with Bob Ott opposed, to put a six-year special purpose local option sales tax before voters in November.
Several changes were made late Tuesday night to the list of projects to be funded by the SPLOST, which is expected to raise $750 million over its duration. Among the changes were a removal of a $72.5 million dollar project for intersection and pedestrian improvements along Cobb Parkway from the “tier two” section of the list, a move suggested by Chairman Tim Lee.
The $72.5 million line item was one of several in the SPLOST project list cited by critics as being connected to a controversial bus rapid transit project.
Initially, the BRT project was on the SPLOST list, but after receiving public comment on the issue, the commissioners decided to remove the project from the list. Lee reiterated the BRT absence from the list during the meeting.
“The project in its entirety has been removed from any paperwork, any project list,” Lee said.
Still, Lee recommended removing the $72.5 million earmark from the list before the vote.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid suggested another $60 million line item for improvements to Cobb Parkway be removed from a list of projects to be funded if federal, state or other funds become available. Cupid said she wanted the line item removed because constituents expressed concern the project could be used to fund BRT in the future, including some residents who made this argument during the public comment portion of the meeting.
In the July 2 draft of the SPLOST project list, the $60 million line item included a reference to BRT in its description, but in the July 15 draft, the reference to BRT was removed. Cupid said the lack of clarity regarding the project and its relationship to the proposed BRT gave her pause.
“Constituents shouldn’t have to play detective in understanding our line items, and I feel that is what they’ve done to uncover that BRT was referenced with one particular line item, which has not been removed, which is a $60 million project,” she said.
Lee argued the $60 million was put on the list by the Georgia Department of Transportation and it is necessary and unrelated to the BRT. Still, Cupid encouraged the board to remove the earmark before the vote.
“I’m not trying to diminish the need for improvements to the intersection beyond BRT,” Cupid said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it was included in the SPLOST list with BRT included in that section prior to that. And I’m not the one that needs to be convinced at the end of the day; the voters are. And by now, there is overwhelming concern by them on things that have been changed that referenced BRT that no longer reference BRT.”
Ott and Commissioner JoAnn Birrell agreed with Cupid, and before the vote, the project was removed.
Commissioner Helen Goreham, along with Lee, disagreed with the change.
“I support the SPLOST. I don’t support this change,” Goreham said. “I will vote to support the intergovernmental agreement, but I do not support a change that has no basis, and for us to act out of some fear that has been created.”
Despite the removal of these two projects, Ott still voted against the measure because he believes the project list contains too many unnecessary items.
“I think (the project list) strays too far from special purpose. There’s too many projects on there that I don’t think are needs,” he said.
Before commissioners voted on whether to put the SPLOST before voters, they approved an intergovernmental agreement, which described how the funds raised by the SPLOST would be divided between Cobb County’s six cities and the county itself. Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the agreement.
After the agreement’s approval, commissioners began discussion of the SPLOST project list and the changes they would like to make. However, the county attorney, Deborah Dance, informed commissioners the project list was included in the intergovernmental agreement; the subsequent vote was solely to decide whether to put the issue before voters. Learning the $60 million line item had been approved, Cupid called for a revote to revisit the intergovernmental agreement, which commissioners agreed to do, 4-1, with a frustrated Lee opposed.