My opinion: The SPLOST projects list still has more wants than needs.
Reality: Thankfully, the Board of Commissioners does not make decisions based on any one constituent's personal opinions. And when you have a functional government (unlike Congress), elected officials sometimes have to make collaborative decisions where there is no perfect answer.
At the early SPLOST public meetings, Cobb made a good case that they had some absolute necessities, for which the county had no extra money within the budget.
However, after reviewing the original projects list, it was clear that there were a lot of projects that were not necessities. As more and more citizens reviewed the list and recognized the same problem, this became a hot issue and a lot of the "wants" were eventually eliminated.
I also pointed out that a lot of the projects initiated new services, or expanded existing services, which would require additional operating and maintenance expenses in future budgets. The county's justification for this SPLOST was that they did not have enough money in the budget to even cover all of their absolute necessities. So how was it appropriate to create large new future expenses, with no plausible way to pay for them, without additional future tax increases?
I was not going to support a tax where the revenues were going to be spent in ways that would necessitate additional future tax increases.
Three of the commissioners acknowledged the future funding problem for new services, and therefore the four-year project list has apparently removed nearly all projects that would create additional ongoing future expenses, except for a few where an increase in operating expenses would be offset by a decrease in maintenance expenses.
Numerous citizens raised another crucial issue. Why is Cobb seeking a "special purpose" SPLOST to pay for items that really should be funded as regular maintenance items within the budget?
This is a crucial fundamental question that needs to be answered. However, regardless of the legitimacy of this issue, Cobb currently has operating and maintenance necessities for which it has no available funding. There is no perfect answer to this dilemma.
In the end, this is where two commissioners felt that they didn't like any of their choices, but they still had an obligation to take care of the basic necessities of the county. They had succeeded in getting a lot of non-necessities eliminated, but they still had no clear alternative way to pay for some true necessities.
So they agreed to a compromise that would put a four-year SPLOST on the ballot, only if it was accompanied with an action to move Cobb toward being able to fund its necessities in the future, within the county's normal operating budget.
The commissioners are initiating a new citizens' audit committee that will have to look at more than just future revenue sources. The committee will also have to look at current services, and potential future services, and provide the county a realistic plan for meeting our future needs, without increases in tax rates, and without the necessity to implement new tax schemes.
The citizens' audit committee will initiate a process that has the potential to be very beneficial to Cobb taxpayers. The committee should be made up of regular citizens, who are knowledgeable about the County's functions, and it should exclude anyone with business interests or other interests where that person would have potential for any type of profit or gain from the county.
The commissioners' compromise was reasonable. Nevertheless, I still don't think the four-year SPLOST was the best answer.
By December, even some of the most ardent anti-tax citizens recognized that there were some true necessities for which the county had no funding. Even the Tea Party was willing to compromise on a three-year SPLOST, with a more scaled-back projects list.
I really think the commissioners should have eliminated more non-necessities, winding up with a three-year SPLOST that would have achieved a compromise with citizens / voters.
So, it is now up to the voters. I think if the $486 million SPLOST is voted down, the commissioners will come up with a list of the true necessities and figure out how to fund that list. I think that list will be less than $200 million.
Regardless of whether you oppose the March 15 special election date, and regardless of whether you support or oppose the SPLOST, it is now your responsibility to vote. Get this on your calendar. Don't forget. No excuses. Vote!
Ron Sifen of Vinings is former president of the Vinings Homeowners Association and former president of the Cobb Civic Coalition.