Commissioners were given a master list of projects totaling more than $1 billion from county departments this week and asked to prioritize which they wanted to see included in a six-year SPLOST, estimated to collect $750 million.
Voters may decide on whether to extend the SPLOST in November.
Rebranding the BRT?
Ott wants to strike the $100 million line item for a proposed bus rapid transit line connecting Kennesaw State University with Midtown Atlanta. Bus rapid transit is not mentioned in the description of the line item, submitted by the Cobb Department of Transportation. Rather, it’s called a “high capacity multi-modal transit along Cobb Parkway.”
The description goes on to describe how it would allow for “improved access/mobility for existing businesses and future business growth.”
Ott has publicly opposed including an earmark for bus rapid transit in the SPLOST list, as have commissioners Lisa Cupid and Helen Goreham.
“It appears to me that they’re rebranding it so people don’t realize it’s BRT,” Ott said. “And that doesn’t change in my mind that this is not what SPLOST should be used for, and I still have objections to BRT or CCT enhancements if it has anything to do with the fixed
guideway coming down 41.”
But Commission Chairman Tim Lee wants to see the earmark included.
“I really believe in the project,” Lee said. “It’s just a matter of talking to the commissioners and the mayors on Friday and seeing if they agree and going from there.”
Ott: New public safety buildings won’t solve officer complaints
Ott also balked at two proposals submitted by the county’s public safety department.
One is a $55 million line item to build a new headquarters and evidence storage room for the Cobb Police Department. The existing police headquarters is on North Marietta Parkway near the Square. The other expense is $52.9 million for a new training facility for police and firefighters. The existing training facility is on County Services Parkway.
It’s no secret a number of Cobb police officers have been unhappy with how their department has been managed as outlined in the resignation letter of the county’s last public safety director, Jack Forsythe.
“A new police headquarters and a new training facility do nothing to address what the surveys from our officers have said,” Ott said. “They have concerns about pay. They have concerns about the vehicles. We have need for another precinct. It doesn’t solve what we’ve been told all along by the public safety officials, which is manpower and getting police officers and patrol cars on the streets.”
Ott estimates that once the SPLOST funds are divided between the county and six cities, the county would have about $500 million from a new SPLOST. Spending $100 million of that on BRT and another $100 million on a new police headquarters and training facility, leaves the county with $300 million to accomplish all the projects needed across the county, he said.
“In order to address public safety concerns, we need to be listening to what the officers are trying to tell us,” Ott said.
Lee acknowledged that the “rank and file” may prefer to see the money spent on something other than a new police headquarters and training facility.
“But the police chief and Sam (Heaton) as the director of public safety, they have a responsibility for the whole department, which includes training,” Lee said. “I can see where someone on the street may not think that’s first priority, but it might be a priority for the whole department and that’s why we have leadership.”
Lee said he’s asked the four district commissioners to have their lists ready for Friday’s meeting between the Board of Commissioners and Cobb’s six mayors.
“The goal is for them to bring their recommendations to the meeting Friday morning,” Lee said.
“Staff will compile that list over the weekend, and we’ll see where we are next Monday in terms of having a project list that will list where the commissioners agree.”
Heaton: New headquarters would free up space for other departments
Heaton said the idea for the new police headquarters comes from the existing headquarters being overcrowded with other departments such as the Emergency Management Agency, the evidence storage facility and the 911 center.
By building a new police headquarters, possibly on County Services Road, the existing building would be used for the expansion of the other departments in the building such as the 911 center.
Also, several of the county’s police units are scattered across the county.
“By having a new headquarters, we would be able to bring command and control together under one building,” Heaton said.
The county’s training facility was built in 1992 at a time when the county had about 800 people working for police and fire.
“Today we’re getting close to 1,500,” Heaton said. “We’re just busting at the seams.”
Heaton said one of the earmarks in the proposed wish list is $9 million for the purchase of additional cars.
As for salaries, those come from the general fund and can’t be paid with SPLOST dollars, he said.
Heaton said in the 2005 SPLOST, public safety received about 3.27 percent of the total revenues. In the 2011 SPLOST, it received 2.62 percent.
“And in both of those, PD was very minimum, so I would just like to be able to see us pick up some of the places we missed,” he said.
If commissioners and the mayors give their consent, Lee said the Board of Commissioners will take a July 22 vote on a resolution to place the SPLOST before voters in a November 4 referendum.