Yet Commissioner Helen Goreham was the only district commissioner to confirm Monday she would be voting in favor of the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax list at tonight’s meeting.
Commissioners Bob Ott, JoAnn Birrell and Lisa Cupid said they could not commit without seeing the final list of projects the proposed six-year tax would pay for.
Tonight, commissioners are also scheduled to vote on reducing the millage rate for 2014 and on a new tax district in south Cobb.
The SPLOST has been a contentious issue in Cobb, partially because of a project some officials say isn’t on the project list: a bus rapid transit program proposed to run along a dedicated lane on U.S. 41 from Acworth to Midtown.
The $494 million BRT project was initially meant to be funded with the help of federal grants.
Lee planned to use SPLOST money to fund transportation projects along the BRT’s route — including $72.5 million worth of intersection improvements on U.S. 41 — as part of the local match.
Lee has since said he changed his stance on the BRT because an environmental analysis of the project — which is necessary to receive federal funding — will not be complete until next month. The chairman said BRT is now off the list completely, and if the BRT is reconsidered at some point in the future, it will be put before voters as a separate item.
“And if we do look at an alternative transportation mode of this magnitude, it needs to be evaluated on its own merit independently of any other program,” he said.
The intersection improvements, however, remained on the SPLOST project list as of Monday night. In the July 7 draft of the project list, the $72.5 million project was moved to “tier two,” which means it will only be funded after all the tier one projects are completely financed.
Ott cited the inclusion of these intersection improvements as proof of the BRT remaining on the list.
“And that’s still on the list, so as far as I’m concerned, BRT is still on the SPLOST,” he said.
Last week, Ott would not comment on whether he would vote to put the issue before voters, but he made it clear that if the BRT is still on the list, he would not support it.
Other commissioners also declined to comment on how they plan to vote.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid said she believes the SPLOST has a lot to provide for her district in south Cobb, specifically a possible recreation center in the Osborne area and improvements to the Mable House Complex and Stout Park. Still, Cupid said she is concerned that BRT is still on the list.
“I’m leaning toward supporting it. However, there’s still some questions about BRT-related projects still being on the list,” she said.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell cited park improvements as a reason to pass the SPLOST.
Birrell wouldn’t comment on how she might vote, though, until she sees the final list.
Unlike her colleagues, Goreham committed her support to the SPLOST.
“If it remains in its present form, then I will be voting yes,” Goreham said.
Cobb County will receive more revenue from property taxes next year, even though commissioners are scheduled to lower the county’s millage rate tonight.
The county divides revenue from property taxes to several different funds: the general fund, a fund for fire protection services and a fund to repay bonds issued by Cobb County. All of the millage rates for these funds will remain the same in 2014, except the general fund.
“Under the general fund, (the millage rate) goes from 7.52 mills to 7.32 mills. Fire fund remains the same. Bond (fund) is the same. So the countywide (millage rate) goes down 0.2 (mills),” Lee said.
According to a public notice regarding the property tax, plan to decrease the millage rate by 0.2 mills — the second consecutive year the millage rate has seen a decline.
“They reduced the millage rate in 2013 and (are) proposing reducing the millage rate in 2014, so it will be two years in a row,” said Robert Quigley, county spokesman.
The county’s millage rate was increased by 0.9 mills in 2011, and Lee said in his State of the County address in January 2013 he would do what he could to begin reducing the millage rate as the economy improved. He reiterated his pledge Monday, citing the millage rate decrease in back to back years.
Revenue from property taxes will increase, however, because the total value of properties in the county, or digest, has increased for the first time in years. Lee said the increase in the digest is a result of recovering property values and new construction.
Even with the millage rate decrease, Cobb County will receive about $1.5 million more in property tax revenue in 2014 compared to 2013 due to the increase in the digest, according to the public notice. Although the county has the option to “roll back” the millage rate so it receives the same amount of revenue from property taxes this year as in 2013, the county has elected against it, according to the recommendation in the commissioners’ agenda.
Commissioners will also vote to approve a millage rate of 2.7 mills for the new Cumberland Special Services District II, which closely mirrors the Cumberland Community Improvement District. Lee said the taxes raised by this new district will be used to help pay for the new Braves stadium.
“It’s directly to support the Braves,” Lee said. “We initially, when we adopted it, thought it would be 3 mills, but it’s actually going to be only 2.7 mills.”
Commissioners are also expected to vote on creating a new tax district in the south Cobb region around Six Flags Drive. Cupid, who represents the area, said revenue raised by the new tax district will be a boon to the area.
“The desire is that there will finally be resources available to transform the area, as had been planned for in many of the different studies of the Six Flags area,” she said. “There’s been a lot of great ideas on the books, but just little to no resources to move those forward.”
The proposed district in the southern tip of the county would be bordered by the Fulton and Douglas county lines and extend just past Interstate 20 to the north.
After the district is created, $10 million in bond proceeds will be issued by the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority, and revenue from a property tax on commercial properties will be used to pay it off, according to Dana Johnson, deputy director of community development for the county.
Cupid wanted to assure residents of the area the district is designed to help them, not force them out.
“There is some concern that this district will displace the many residents who live along this corridor, and that is not the intent of this district. … Should the district be approved, my desire is to help the residents who live along Six Flags Drive (who have) been desiring the changes in that area … . It’s not to displace them so the residents can’t enjoy the benefits that can come from this district,” Cupid said.