Commissioners Bob Ott, Lisa Cupid and Helen Goreham say they do not support county Chairman Tim Lee’s proposal to use special purpose local option sales tax dollars to partially fund the transit system.
Lee has said $100 million of the $494 million cost of the bus-rapid transit system could be paid for out of a new special purpose local option sales tax, were voters to renew the tax in a November referendum.
The transit system has not yet been approved for construction by the Board of Commissioners. County spokesman Robert Quigley said commissioners will vote sometime in July on whether to include an earmark for the BRT in the proposed SPLOST list.
Ott, who represents southeast Cobb, said he does not favor including the BRT on the SPLOST list because he does not approve of the transit system.
“What I’ve seen so far I can’t support, because I don’t think it solves the traffic problems, and I think it’s a huge sum of money,” Ott said. “I believe it’s more geared toward economic development than solving the traffic problems.”
Cupid also cited the large cost as the reason for her opposition.
“As of right now, I am not supportive of including BRT on the SPLOST project list due to its exorbitant cost and limited reach to persons who depend on transit,” Cupid said.
Goreham, who represents northwest Cobb and is considered Lee’s ally on the board, said she is also against using SPLOST money to fund the transit project.
“It would probably be very detrimental to the SPLOST,” Goreham said. “I think there is still a high level of negativity from the T-SPLOST, and I think it would carry over for this proposal. But also, there needs to be an explanation of the total financing for the BRT proposal,” Goreham said.
That explanation will come from the final version of an environmental assessment the county expects to have later this month, Goreham said.
The details of the transit system funding will determine the total proposed cost of the project and the amount the county will have to pay, Lee said. The last assessment showed the county would contribute $100 million and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration would contribute $242 million.
The FTA requires two studies on the project to contribute funding, and the county has paid for them, Quigley said.
The commission has already spent $1.8 million on an analysis by Croy Engineering. The county also spent $2.3 million to get an assessment by Kimley-Horn and Associates that was meant to evaluate how the system might affect the environment, Quigley said.
The county expects the FTA to look at the environmental assessment and decide how much funding it will contribute to the project. The FTA is expected to make their decision this month.
Two others on the Board of Commissioners said they did not want to weigh in on the SPLOST funding for the bus system until they know exactly what the federal government intends to pay for.
Lee said he wants to wait until the final reports from the environmental assessment come in before he makes a decision. He said the report will give a more detailed explanation about the total costs for parts of the project, such as vehicle types.
Until he has all of the information, Lee said, he doesn’t want to decide whether to ask taxpayers to contribute to the project.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who won her primary campaign last month and faces no competition in the general election, said she wants to see a list of the other projects that might be included in SPLOST list before she decides whether to include funding for the transit system. But she previously told the MDJ she would not be against including it in the SPLOST.
“I have no problem with it going on the SPLOST list because, as you know, that will be voted on by the public,” Birrell said in April.
Yet on Wednesday, Birrell said: “I am still undecided until I see the full SPLOST list and figures.”