With 100 percent precincts reporting, 50.1 percent of voters, or 21,525, consented to the four-year tax, expected to generate $492 million, while 49.9 percent, or 21,446 voters, voted against it. Nearly 11 percent of Cobb's registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election.
"It's going to improve the infrastructure, we'll improve our roads, public safety, parks and facilities, and Cobb County will continue to be the best place to live, work and play. We're just very, very excited," Rose Wing, chair of the pro-SPLOST group Citizens for Cobb's Future, said after all of Tuesday's votes were tallied.
Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee said that with a referendum such as Tuesday's, only the Elections Board could call for a recount. He said no automatic recount is issued, such as in a candidate race when an election comes within 2 percent.
Only 36,449 voters turned out on a rainy Tuesday to cast their ballot, Cobb Elections officials said. During the early voting period, which began Feb. 21, a total of 6,522 votes were cast for a total of 42,971 votes.
Cobb now has 392,598 active voters, Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said.
Eveler said provisional and overseas ballots would not be added until after Friday, but Lee said he does not expect those ballots to change the outcome of Tuesday's election.
"It was a very, very close vote, obviously, and we appreciate the victory that was presented to us. But in recognizing that it was close, we will have to take that into consideration when we are moving forward with our 2012 and 2013 budgets," Lee said.
Lance Lamberton, president of the anti-SPLOST group Cobb County Taxpayers Association, said: "It's very, very hard to defeat a campaign that raised a quarter of a million dollars to pass a SPLOST. We think this is the wrong prescription for Cobb County. We really do need tax relief and we really question very seriously the appropriateness of the spending package that's in this SPLOST."
Throughout the night, members of both groups anxiously watched as returns came in, which at times showed a margin of less than 10 votes.
Members of Citizens for Cobb's Future hosted an election night party in The Pub of the Hilton Marietta Conference Center, and welcomed close to 150 supporters throughout the night, Wing said. Some of those in attendance included Lee, Cobb County Manager David Hankerson, Cobb Support Services Agency Director Virgil Moon, Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, Marietta City Councilman Van Pearlberg, pollster and columnist Matt Towery, Cobb Chamber of Commerce COO Demming Bass, attorney Chuck Clay of Marietta law firm Brock & Clay and economist Roger Tutterow.
"I voted yes because I'm a private property homeowner and a realtor," Donna Rowe of Marietta, also a member of the Cobb County Development Authority, said during the Citizens for Cobb's Future gathering. "If it doesn't pass, we need fire trucks, we need pot holes repaired, and who's going to pay? Homeowners. If we have to raise the millage rate, we don't have a vote. This is a more democratic process, and the taxes aren't being raised - they're staying the same."
Over at Rocco's Pub on Roswell Road near the Big Chicken in Marietta, Lamberton's group paired with the Georgia Tea Party and other residents opposed to the 2011 SPLOST to view election results. Nearly 40 residents attended the gathering.
Georgia Tea Party board member Tom Maloy of Powder Springs said the passage of the county SPLOST will not bode well for the Regional Transportation SPLOST, which is up for a vote in July 2012, and that residents can likely expect an increase in property taxes to pay for the projects approved by voters Tuesday.
"We will likely see property taxes increase because we will have more infrastructure and won't have the money in the general fund to maintain it," Maloy said. "The problem we face now is that the county has cut out maintenance and delayed maintenance so now the county has to rely on the SPLOST to maintain buildings. I'm going to watch this SPLOST more closely and if it isn't more transparent than the one we're in now, we're going to find out why. If you say you're going to do a project, you better do it. That's not the case with the '05 SPLOST. If you want the federal government to cut its spending, you have to demand that county, state and local governments be responsible as well and Cobb has not shown they are, so far. This is a prime example of government waste."
On Dec. 14, county commissioners agreed, 4-1, to put the referendum to voters.
Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham dissented, saying, "We have been far too dependent on SPLOST for years to address the financial infrastructure for our county."
Voters stayed their historical course in approving the SPLOST vote. Indeed, Cobb voters have approved four of county government's five SPLOST referendums since 1985, and have paid the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for 20 of the last 25 years. All together, the tax has generated about $1.6 billion for the county.
But Cobb voters halted the tax one time, in November 2000, which was also a presidential election. At that time, the county's proposed SPLOST for parks and sidewalks failed when about 53 percent of voters rejected it.
In 2005, the county's SPLOST passed by a mere 117 votes out of nearly 40,000 ballots cast.
The county schools also have their own special sales tax program. Since 1998, all three of those referendums have passed handily, at least in part because the Cobb school district alone employs 15,000 people.
The school systems are now in year three of a five-year SPLOST, which accounts for one of the 6 percent in sales tax that consumers pay on goods bought in Cobb.
The schools' SPLOST III, which will sunset on Dec. 31, 2013, is now projected to bring in about $586 million over its life, down 26 percent from its original projections due to the economic downturn.
MDJ News Editor Kim Isaza contributed to this report