Southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid took the lead in asking that the Bus Rapid Transit projects be removed from the projects list. She addressed the issues perfectly. She did a great job of pointing out that Cobb had identified these projects as BRT, and Cobb could not just keep changing their descriptions and explanations every few days. Cobb had an obligation to be credible.
Every time an angry tirade was directed at her, Cupid responded calmly and professionally, stuck to the issues and provided well-reasoned responses under pressure. Many politicians could learn from the example she set.
Cupid, along with east Cobb Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott, did a fantastic job of standing up for the citizens of Cobb County.
After a two-hour battle during the July 22 Board of Commissioners meeting, the BRT component projects were removed and the BOC then approved putting the SPLOST on the ballot for voters to decide on Nov. 4.
Many people have identified additional concerns about this new SPLOST and many of their points are valid. However, some of these are issues beyond this SPLOST and perhaps those need to be issues for another day.
SPLOST is supposed to mean Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. But SPLOST in Cobb has evolved into not-special-purpose. About a decade ago, most of Cobb’s funding for road resurfacing and other transportation needs was moved from the regular budget to the SPLOST. Funding for building maintenance, roof replacements, heating and air conditioning replacements and other items that should be in the regular budget, were also moved to the SPLOST. That’s not special purpose, and SPLOSTs are not supposed to be used for maintenance. But we can’t fix that between now and November.
Cobb County is going to have to take care of all of this maintenance, and there is no money for these items in the current budget. Without the SPLOST, Cobb would have to impose huge property tax increases in order to pay for these items. Does anybody want large property tax increases?
There are plenty of projects on the list that some people oppose, but other people like these same projects. Now is not the time to rehash these projects. If the SPLOST is not approved, all of the necessary projects on this list will not get funded, and all of us will have a huge problem.
One advantage of a six-year SPLOST is that we have six years to make some decisions about future SPLOSTs, future priorities and future alternatives.
Should road maintenance and building maintenance be moved back to the regular budget? Should we dramatically increase property taxes?
Do we want these items to be paid for with a sales tax? If yes, well, SPLOST is a sales tax.
Since road and building maintenance is not a special purpose, should Cobb move to a new permanent HOST sales tax or LOST sales tax? That’s a whole new tax that would have to be approved by the voters.
Cobb has a huge problem with how we compile the SPLOST projects list. Cobb keeps using SPLOSTs like a slush fund. Cobb starts by deciding a SPLOST can raise $750 million in 6 years, and then Cobb tries to figure out what it wants to spend all that money on.
Taxpayers need to let our commissioners know future SPLOSTs should be constructed by deciding what we actually need, and then constructing the SPLOST to raise that amount of money, and stop collecting the SPLOST once that amount of money is raised.
Cobb should approve this SPLOST, but insist that commissioners talk with their constituents about the following:
n How can the commissioners work with our state legislators to get them to approve fractional penny SPLOSTs?
n Cobb needs to plan future SPLOSTs by compiling a list of real needs first, and once we know how much we need, then decide how long the SPLOST will be and how much money will be raised.
n What types of projects should future SPLOSTs be used for?
n How should we pay for road resurfacing, roof replacements, heating and air conditioning replacement and other similar necessities? If we are not going to pay for these necessities with SPLOSTs in the future, what is going to be the source of funds to pay for these necessities?
The SPLOST is far from perfect. We need to fix the SPLOST process in the future.
But let’s all face the reality that we need to approve this SPLOST on Nov. 4.
Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the CCCC.