The county’s 1 percent, four-year, special purpose local option sales tax, which squeaked by in a close election on March 15, 2011, is projected to raise $463.3 million from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2015, for transportation, public safety, infrastructure and parks.
So far, $97.5 million has been collected.
Of the $463.3 million, 27 percent, or about $130 million, is designated for the cities according to population.
If actual collections run higher — the county has collected $8.6 million more than anticipated so far — cities will receive proportionately higher sums, which can be used for so-called Tier 2 projects, county comptroller Bill Volckmann said.
The cities get monthly cash infusions by wire transfer or check.
“We get money sent to our finance department monthly,” said Earnie Via, Kennesaw’s director of public works. “It’s a wire transfer. They tell us, ‘X amount of dollars came into your account.’”
Managing the money can vary from city to city.
Via said Kennesaw waits for the coffers to fill before spending the sums credited toward its $22 million, four-year receipts.
“Once we have enough for the design phase, we go ahead and go into the design phase” which costs from $50,000 to $150,000 per project, he said. “Whatever amount they send over, we divide it into our projects. It won’t necessarily be equal.”
Powder Springs follows a comparable routine.
“Monies have to accumulate in order to complete a project,” city SPLOST project manager Pam Conner said. “Accordingly, the city does not proceed with projects until there is a sufficient pool of money to commence.”
Smyrna has a similar financial plan.
“Projects are programmed based upon priority and cash flow,” Smyrna spokeswoman Jennifer Bennett said. “The city does not have to wait until all of the funds are available to start a particular project. However, projects are scheduled to ensure the projected cash flow will cover the project expenses.”
Likewise, Marietta pegs its earnings to separate projects.
“The city of Marietta schedules the projects so that we do not commit more money to the projects than has been received,” city engineer Jim Wilgus said. “The design of individual projects begins before the entire funding for the project has been received. Individual phases of a project are released as the money is received. We have a fairly detailed cash-flow projection for the entire 2011 SPLOST, allowing us to schedule the projects accordingly.”
Acworth is on board with that plan.
“For cash flow purposes, we need to make sure we have the necessary funds in for projects before they are complete,” Acworth city manager Brian Bulthuis said. “However, as there are different phases to projects, such as design and engineering, we may start that before we have all funds in to pay for the construction.”
Why we care
It all adds up to better living conditions, Marietta’s Wilgus said, for his city’s 56,500 residents.
“The sum of the whole list enhances life for the citizens of Marietta,” he said.
Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins said a $4.6 million share is significant to his city of 6,500 residents.
“It’s a good thing for us to be able to get things we wouldn’t normally be able to get. We don’t collect a lot of tax. We only collect $400,000 a year in taxes. The fire truck cost $450,000,” he said about the city’s top SPLOST 2011 expenditure.
The flip side of the penny
Not everyone is happy about the tax, however.
Ron Sifen of Vinings, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, said residents are tiring of constantly being asked for money.
“Taxpayers are figuring out that governments are using SPLOSTs as slush funds,” he said. “Think about the way they come up with the projects list. Government says ‘how much money can we raise if we do a SPLOST for six years?’ Then they say, ‘OK, now let’s figure out what we can spend it on.’”
The process is enough to cause taxpayers to lose their trust in government, Sifen said.
“The starting point for SPLOSTs should be to identify true needs that are ‘special projects’ and not things that should be part of the normal budget,” he said. “Government should identify those needed ‘special projects’ — and only those needed ‘special projects’ — and figure out how much those projects will cost. The SPLOST should be structured so that it raises only that amount of money.”
Marietta City Councilman Johnny Sinclair said SPLOST opponents say the tax leads to a self-perpetuating economic drain.
“When you create a new road, you also create the future maintenance of it. We tend to sometimes forget those unintended consequences. One of the criticisms of SPLOST is that it’s not over. You keep building new roads, but you also create the operation of it for the next 100 years,” he said at last week’s City Council agenda review meeting, during a discussion of utility work funded by the Board of Lights and Water.
Marietta resident Larry Wills said at the City Council meeting SPLOST allocations are flawed.
“We’re using those SPLOST funds to build a fire station and maintenance facility and other non-transportation projects,” he said about $3 million for relocating Station 56 and $2 million for renovating a public works building.
“These SPLOST projects related to Roswell Street and Fairground Street are beautification projects. They aren’t real transportation projects.”
City by city in $ order
Marietta’s top five projects include roadway improvements on Franklin Road and Fairground, Powder Springs and Roswell streets, for a total of $10.5 million out of the city’s anticipated $44.8 million SPLOST income.
They have completion dates ranging from 2014 to 2016.
In addition, Marietta will improve Cobb Parkway and North Marietta Parkway, Roswell Road at Cobb Parkway, South Marietta Parkway, Alexander Street and West Dixie Avenue.
The city also plans to replace computers and equipment at its Advanced Traffic Management System control center at a cost of $1 million.
The $1.6 million West Dixie Avenue realignment project at Powder Springs Street is moving along in its plan to bring it and Hedges Street into one signalized intersection.
“The traffic engineering study is under way,” Wilgus said.
The city plans to spend $7.5 million on resurfacing, he said.
“We are working on the spring list right now,” Wilgus said about early 2013 plans.
Tier 2 projects form a $23 million wish list for railroad quiet zone installations, pedestrian crossing improvements and sidewalks, among other items.
Smyrna’s transportation workload, part of its $34 million SPLOST income, includes a 1.2-mile stretch of Concord Road.
The $11.5 million project will place a landscaped median and a trail from South Cobb Drive to Atlanta Road.
“After several years of planning and waiting for funding to be achieved, the Concord Road improvement project construction has begun,” said City Councilman Charles “Corkey” Welch, who chairs the city’s public works committee. “While the short-term will no doubt create a bit of construction traffic, the city eagerly anticipates the final outcome to be a safer, more efficient and appealing thoroughfare.”
Other SPLOST projects include building a three-tenths-mile Belmont Hills Connector between Ward Street and a proposed development near Atlanta Road, a $2 million project now under construction and set to conclude in April, and a $1.5 million, half-mile improvement project on Ward Street between Windy Hill Road and Powder Springs Street, slated to wrap in June.
Village Parkway will get $1.5 million in improvements starting July 2015 and ending by June 2016, while a future Windy Hill project is waiting on $40 million in additional funding before work starts on its $2 million concept plan.
Smyrna also anticipates working on park projects, installing new equipment at the jail and buying two new fire trucks.
Smyrna’s city engineer, Eric Randall, supervises the SPLOST program, coordinating the projects with program management firm Croy Engineering.
Kennesaw is expecting $22 million in SPLOST revenue.
“The city of Kennesaw has several SPLOST projects, all of which are imminent by virtue of being in the SPLOST program,” said Mayor Mark Mathews. “Each of these projects will have a significant impact on the quality of life and safety of our residents, with the highest-cost project being Pine Mountain.”
The 1.2-mile Pine Mountain Road project, the city’s No. 1 priority, will include curb and gutter improvements, sidewalks on both sides, a turn lane, a bridge replacement, adding acceleration and deceleration lanes to the Smith-Gilbert Garden entrance, stormwater upgrades, an intersection improvement, a median and a possible traffic signal at Shillings Road.
The project will cost $10 million — $6.5 million from the city, $3.5 million from the county — with a high priority on safety.
About 10,700 vehicles travel on Pine Mountain Road between Stilesboro Road and Cobb Parkway daily, Via said.
According to accident data provided by the city, there were 18 crashes between Shillings and Stilesboro roads in the three years between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2012.
The county’s share of the project extends from Shillings Road to Stilesboro Road.
“Shillings Road will be realigned to intersect Pine Mountain Road at a 90-degree angle,” county project manager Michael Wright said. “Trilleck Road will also be shifted slightly to intersect Pine Mountain Road at the same location as Shillings Road.”
The city portion is from Shillings Road to Cobb Parkway.
A public information meeting was held for it last week at which an approximate schedule was shared with attendees — design and environmental permit processes will take until January 2014, right-of-way acquisition is slated to begin in April and conclude in March 2014, and construction is planned from May 2014 to November 2015.
“It’s under design right now. That will be done in February or March, then we have to purchase extra right-of-way. We have to negotiate with every property owner. That can take up to year,” Via said.
Although most road projects take 12 to 18 months to finish, anything can happen, he said.
“We could get in there and discover a buried pipeline,” Via said. “Sometimes you run into something totally unexpected.”
Cobb International Boulevard between Cobb Parkway and Cobb Center Drive is the city’s No. 2 priority.
“That project is to upgrade the road to industrial standards,” Via said about the 1.5-mile expanse. “When that was built, they didn’t anticipate the heavy truck access it has. A lot of new businesses moved in with warehouses and the big (Cobb County School District) mail center.”
Because the project is so expensive, the city has set its completion date in 2015 to give it time to collect the required funds, he said.
Its third priority but second-highest dollar amount, $5 million, is earmarked for intersection improvements along Cherokee Street, which has a vehicle count of 4,200 per day.
The project is slated for a 2016 completion date.
A $1.2-million project to widen Collins Road between Stanley Road and Barrett Parkway, where daily traffic averages about 5,500 vehicles, is its fourth priority.
The project will begin this spring.
“That’s a little bit ahead of the others,” Via said about the three-quarters of a mile stretch.
Construction has already begun on its No. 5 priority, the $388,000 McCollum Parkway at Cherokee Street intersection improvement project.
“It will also affect a new 250-bed student housing complex under construction at this site,” Via said.
Also important is the project called Safety, Signs and Sidewalks, which will bring about 256 sidewalks up to recently revised Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The highest amount Acworth is spending of its $13 million SPLOST income is a $4.75 million police headquarters for its 39-sworn officer force.
Other big-ticket items are $1.5 million for silent crossings at railroad tracks and more than $1 million for paving the three-quarter mile Blue Springs Road between Main Street and Cobb Parkway.
The city fast-tracked a half-acre parking lot at Willis and Main streets in its historic downtown district.
Pervious pavers, which allow stormwater to soak into the ground and get filtered by soil before flowing into Lake Allatoona or other waterways, were used.
“It’s an innovative approach to parking lots, and one that we could do fairly quickly,” Assistant City Manager Brandon Douglas said.
Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood said the city’s list was carefully calibrated, and also includes parks and recreation facilities.
“The list of projects was in response to the needs and betterment of the community,” Allegood said.
Of its $10.6 million, Powder Springs has set aside about $1.6 million for each of three categories: general street improvements like sidewalks; repaving; and facilities improvements like senior center upgrades.
Its first projects include computers and videos for police cars, sidewalks and a community theater, city SPLOST project manager Pam Conner said.
The city has slated $2.6 million for five bridge improvements and a new Silver Comet Trail bridge.
It set aside $1.5 million to finish a Powder Springs Park master plan, install new parking, ball fields, a building for storage, meetings and concessions, and move its swimming pool to Wild Horse Creek Park.
Meanwhile, road maintenance is a high priority.
“Resurfacing will occur over approximately nine miles of roadways,” Conner said. “Final assessments by the city engineer are underway and scheduled for completion in late winter in order for the elected officials to determine the priority of the affected roadways.”
Austell is dividing its $4.6 million proceeds into $2.8 million for transportation, slightly more than $1 million for parks and $700,000 for public safety.
Besides building sidewalks and building maintenance, the city will buy at least 10 vehicles, including a street sweeper, grapple bucket trucks and a backhoe, Mayor Jerkins said.
The city’s police department has bought three new patrol cars and the fire department has its new truck, Jerkins said.
“The most money was $450,000 for a fire truck. They’re pretty expensive,” he said.
In addition, renovation is in progress on the 30,000-square-foot, city-owned Katlaw Building, a $100,000 project slated for a spring 2013 completion date.
“It’s been leaking, so we’re putting a new roof on it,” Jerkins said about the former Katlaw Truck Driving School. “The roof’s pretty well finished.”
The investment will help fill the city coffers, the mayor said.
“We’ll be able to rent it out once we get it fixed,” Jerkins said.
Parks and recreation will get a bigger fleet — a van for the maintenance crew, a pickup truck to transport landscaping equipment and a dump truck.
“We’ve already got a few of them,” Jerkins said about the vehicles. “We’ve done some lease purchases.”
Resurfacing is an ongoing concern in the city, he said.
“We’ve got a good bit of paving we’ve got to get done,” Jerkins said. “We’ll just do certain sections as the money comes in.”
Who gets what…
Nearly all of the cities held town-hall meetings to determine what projects should be on the list, and coordinated with the county as well.
Kennesaw’s Via said his staff determined where traffic tends to bottleneck, and focused some of its SPLOST money to fixing those trouble spots.
“We said, ‘To move traffic more efficiently, this is what we need to do,’” he said.
In Acworth, city employees recommended projects “based on cash flow and when we felt projects could be done,” Bulthuis said.
Powder Springs’ review included two town-hall meetings in 2010, as well as recommendations from the city engineer.
“The initial sidewalk and resurfacing list was created by the elected officials based upon requests and concerns from their constituents and assessment of road conditions from city personnel and the city engineer,” Conner said. “The recreational project list was created from a comprehensive plan prepared by county and city officials.”
Most of the cities prioritized their projects based in part on cost, and several have detailed timelines of what work is being done in what year.
Acworth, for example, was able to add downtown parking using SPLOST money this year, though building a new police headquarters won’t begin until 2013.
“Downtown parking was a top priority,” Bulthuis said. “It was relatively low-cost construction, so the city was able to complete it in the first few months of SPLOST collections.”
The $4.75 million police headquarters, meanwhile, is the city’s most expensive SPLOST project.
“The city is having to bank funds for over a year in order to have the necessary funds to pay for the project,” Bulthuis said.
Creating silent crossings at CSX Railroad intersections will come later, as well.
“The process of working with CSX takes about two years,” Bulthuis said. “Staff knew all the funds necessary for that project would not be needed immediately.”
Marietta, meanwhile, spent its 2012 income on a new fire engine and on land for public safety projects.
In 2013, SPLOST projects will include Alexander Street, a $4 million road widening, sidewalks and drainage improvement project between Roswell and Washington streets, now in the final engineering stage.
Next year will also see the continuation of Fairground Street improvements.
The $10.5 million Fairground A project, which took place on Fairground Street between the North and South Loop and up to the roundabout at Allgood Road, was funded from the 2005 SPLOST.
Fairground B will continue the roadwork between Haley Street and Gene Atkins Alley in 2014.
Fairground C, starting in 2013, at a cost of $2.8 million, will improve six-tenths of a mile of Fairground Street between Washington Avenue and Rigby Street, which experiences travel by 14,640 vehicles per day.
It is slated for a 2014 finish, as is a $1.7 million project concentrating on a block-long stretch of Roswell Street between Lakewood Drive and Olive Street, driven by 12,500 vehicles per day.
Six-tenths of a mile of Franklin Road from Twin Brooks Drive to the Las Colinas apartments at Franklin Court will get median and streetscape improvements to ease congestion for its 15,800 vehicles per day and improve safety for pedestrians.
Like the Fairground series, the Franklin Road project, which will begin in 2014 and end in 2015, is a legacy from SPLOST 2005, putting $2 million in new money towards a total $4.7 million investment.
A one-mile Powder Springs Street streetscape project from South Marietta Parkway to Sandtown Road will begin in 2015 and wrap up in 2016, affecting a daily traffic count of 37,000 vehicles.
“We have projects in the general project category which will occur in every year,” Wilgus said about traffic calming, repaving, sidewalks, trails and the like.
Powder Springs started their project list by buying police car equipment and will end their list of projects with new walkways.
“A draft guide outlines in general the priority of projects,” Conner said. “It calls for the completion of public safety computers and videos as the ‘first project’ and Preston Place sidewalks as the ‘last project.’”
There is wiggle room for changing priorities, she said.
“Projects are revisited each year to determine if any projected schedule should be modified,” Conner said. “Additionally, certain projects occur during the life of the program. For example, resurfacing and city facility upgrades/repairs could occur in each program year