Though the Cobb Board of Commissioners has not yet officially called for a SPLOST referendum to be placed on the November ballot, local governments are already choosing the projects they want to see paid for under a planned 1-cent tax on every dollar spent. The referendum could be called as late as August.
Marietta officials started with a hefty potential project list totaling $300 million in early February and have brought that list down to nearly $67.5 million, which is what the city is expected to get from the SPLOST, if it were to last six years as proposed by Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who is taking the lead on the referendum.
The county must approve Marietta’s projects before they can become official, and Mayor Steve Tumlin said Cobb could cut into the city’s share, if commissioners decide more countywide projects need to be funded.
“If the county looked at it and said, ‘We need more countywide (projects),’ we’d have to cut ours,” Tumlin said. “We don’t get to vote on if it’s countywide. If it is, it is.”
A 1-cent SPLOST is being collected now in Cobb and expires at the end of 2015. Marietta is projected to receive about $44.8 million from that SPLOST, which voters just barely passed in 2011, with 21,552 votes in favor and 21,462 votes against the tax.
Council members have said they chose projects carefully not only because they must sell the tax to voters but also because the city is legally obligated to complete whatever tasks are included.
The biggest price tag under Marietta’s SPLOST projects includes core transportation projects at about $28.2 million.
Core transportation projects are general improvements not tied to specific roads or areas, such as the $12.4 million that would be set aside for annual street resurfacing and the
million to fund drainage construction.
Another $3.6 million each is designated for traffic system infrastructure and construction of sidewalks or walking trails.
Public hearings will be this spring before the list is officially included on the ballot.
Making good on promises
Other earmarks pertain to a specific area of the city, such as the $650,000 to fund sidewalks on Cherokee Street or the $1 million footing the bill for future improvements to Glover Park on the Square.
After several meetings and making modest headway on narrowing down priorities, City Council opted to fund general transportation projects and public safety needs and give each council member $2 million to put toward priority projects in their ward or across the city.
Many said following through on promises made under previous SPLOST votes topped their list. Both Roswell and Powder Springs streets improvements began under previous SPLOST programs, but there’s little money left.
The $24 million Roswell Street project has already gone through two cycles of SPLOST funding and includes widening the road from the Marietta Square to the Big Chicken, landscaping, sidewalks and street lights. It stands to receive $3 million from the next SPLOST.
“I think we’re in it so big we had to finish it,” Tumlin said.
City Council spent almost a decade going back and forth with Roswell Street Baptist Church after the city announced its plans to use part of the property at the 70-year-old, 9,000-member church to widen the road.
Fears of condemnation caused an uprising by the church’s congregation in November 2012, which resulted in the council unanimously voting in favor of mediation. An agreement was reached in September.
“I thought we had a major commitment, and I would’ve felt bad if we hadn’t funded it,” Tumlin said.
Councilman Stuart Fleming also said it was important to “finish the play.”
“I think that’s really critical, and I think our taxpayers expect that,” Fleming said.
Councilman Grif Chalfant agreed.
“I’d hate to see them stall when we’re so close to getting all of those completed,” Chalfant said.
Powder Springs Street improvements have also already begun and would receive $3.3 million, the most of any individual project, to fund the portion of the road left from the South Loop to Sandtown Road.
“That’s very important to be a very attractive boulevard,” Tumlin said.
Trails, intersections win big with City Council
The Burnt Hickory Road multi-use trail extending from Old Mountain Road to Whitlock Avenue was a priority for Councilman Johnny Walker. The project comes in at $1.6 million and will use the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield as its trailhead.
“Kennesaw Mountain National Park is our jewel,” Walker said. “We need people to be able to get to it.”
Chalfant also pointed to the trail that will connect Mariettans to the national park.
“An awful lot of people out of Carriage Oaks and other neighborhoods want to see that continued down there,” Chalfant said.
Another historic area was in mind for Councilman Andy Morris, who supported the $1.25 million sidewalk and streetscape projects along Kennesaw Avenue.
“That’s the historical district, the first one that we approved,” Morris said.
Intersections were a priority for Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly, who pushed for $750,000 to improve intersections at Allgood Road and Meritt, Sawyer and Scufflegritt roads.
“Those areas get a lot of wear and tear,” Kelly said, noting the areas become congested during rush hour.
Public safety training complex to be funded
Firefighters and police officers in Marietta also stand to see new equipment if the SPLOST is approved.
Marietta Fire Chief Jackie Gibbs said the SPLOST would give his department $4.25 million worth of new vehicles, including four engine trucks, one ladder truck and two rescue vehicles. Some of the vehicles are 12 years old.
The Marietta Police Department would also get new cruisers, costing about $1 million.
“The police department has struggled in these past years to replace its aging fleet of vehicles,” said Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn. “Patrol vehicles operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week, especially if we have a number of vehicles down due to repairs.”
Fifteen new advanced life-support heart monitors will also be purchased, if the tax passes, to replace the 10-year-old models used by the fire department now.
“You can imagine your computer or your cellphone being 10 years old,” Gibbs said. “Well, imagine the heart monitor that we’re potentially going to use to monitor your heart during a heart attack being over 10 years old.”
A $4.25 million joint public safety training complex is also in line for the tax money.
Voters approved in the last SPLOST, which is being collected now, the replacement of a fire station on Allgood Road near The Walker School. The city has purchased a 16-acre site on Sawyer Road that is proposed to contain both the new fire station and a training complex, including a burn tower and firing range.
“The police department is in desperate need of their own firing range, of which the SPLOST will provide most if not all the funding,” Flynn said.
Gibbs said the training complex will help both police officers and firefighters stay on their feet.
“This is the kind of work that you have to train for,” Gibbs said. “You can’t just get on a truck and be a firefighter, or you can’t just get in a police car and be a police officer.”
Critics say SPLOST bloated with wasteful spending
Though council members maintain another round of SPLOST is needed to keep traffic flowing freely and public safety officials well equipped, Lance Lamberton of the Cobb Taxpayers Associations says taxpayers are better off having more control over their own cash.
“The problem with the current SPLOST is the requirement that it be levied at a full penny, meaning that wasteful and unnecessary projects get funded along with those that are truly needed,” Lamberton said.
His group supported the push for a fractional SPLOST in the last session of the General Assembly, which ended in March. Sponsored by Rep. John Carson (R-northeast Cobb), the fractional SPLOST would have allowed counties and cities to collect a sales tax of less than 1 cent on the dollar. The measure failed.
Lamberton said collecting a full penny of SPLOST is the “equivalent of going to the grocery store to get a few necessary items and being forced to buy a whole bunch of other stuff that you neither need nor want.”
Dr. Bill Hudson, a retired dentist and former board member of the Georgia Tea Party, says another SPLOST isn’t needed. He says SPLOSTs allow local governments to build new things, such as trails, but the projects can’t be maintained under regular budgets.
He says many times projects will be torn down in favor of building something brand new under SPLOST funding.
“They’ll tear it down and build a new one because it’s just the biggest waste of money,” Hudson said. “I mean, do they do that at home? When the house needs its roof repaired do they tear it down to build a new house? No.”