Marietta City staff now have two draft lists of proposed projects for a 2022 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to be voted on by residents next November: one for a five-year SPLOST and one for a six-year.
The SPLOST makes up one penny of Cobb’s 6% sales tax and is split between the county and its six cities. Of the remaining 5%, four cents go to the state and one goes to the Marietta and Cobb school districts’ SPLOST, known as Ed-SPLOST V.
The county’s current SPLOST was approved by voters in 2014, and collections began Jan. 1, 2016. As of the beginning of August, it has brought in just over $514 million and is set to expire Dec. 21, 2021.
It’s up to the Cobb County Board of Commissioners to decide whether to ask voters to approve a five- or six-year SPLOST, and the board hasn’t come down either way so far.
In an October joint meeting between the commission and Cobb’s mayors, whose cities will each get a share of the revenue, Commission Chair Mike Boyce said he favored a six-year plan, but others on the board said they would prefer a five-year plan.
Boyce told Cobb’s mayors the board will have decided the length of the 2020 SPLOST by Dec. 31.
A six-year SPLOST would bring in more money for each of Cobb’s cities over a longer period of time, but it would also mean the expenses would have to change as well — city officials would have to budget for an additional year of maintenance for projects such as roads, bridges and sidewalks.
For Marietta projects, it would bring in about $47.3 million in a five-year SPLOST or about $56.8 million if the board goes with the six-year plan.
At last week’s committee meetings, staff presented two itemized lists of projects which could be funded by SPLOST money. Both lists will have to be whittled down by council members: the five-year SPLOST projects have a price tag of about $67.4 million, about $20 million over budget, and the six-year’s cost is $70.9 million, about $14 million over budget.
Both lists are already significantly reduced from the first draft list released in August. That $120 million list contained every project ever proposed by an elected official.
The priciest project on both of the lists is a proposed citywide street resurfacing to the tune of $11 million for a five-year SPLOST or $13.2 million for a six. No. 2 is the sidewalk fund, set to receive $6 million in a five year SPLOST or $6 and a quarter million for a six.
The city’s parks and facilities could also see major upgrades from the SPLOST. On both lists, City Hall could get nearly $4 million for new windows, a roof, chillers, carpet, bathroom renovations, LED lighting, elevator doors and sealing for the parking deck. The City Club Golf Course is also set to receive upgrades, including an all-new irrigation system. Another $2 million is slated for a new skate park and splash pad, which could go in an existing park.
Both lists also contain $4 million for public safety, including new vehicles for police, new pumpers for the fire department and updated training facilities and equipment.
The most expensive transportation project on both lists includes widening of Cherokee Street to three lanes from and continuing on Church Street to Church Street Extension for $4.5 million, including beautification measures.
Other notable transportation projects potentially in the pipeline include continuing four-lane improvements on Roswell Street from Victory Drive to Park Street for $3.5 million; adding a left-turn lane from for $2.1 million; improvements on Franklin Gateway from Atlanta United headquarters to Delk Road for $2.1 million; sidewalk, trail, streetscape, intersection and median improvements in North Marietta Parkway from Whitlock to Church for $900,000.
At the request of Mayor Steve Tumlin and several on the council, staff has reduced the proportion of funds going to recurring projects such as street resurfacing and bridge rehab. In the previously released list, those projects made up $33.7 million of the $47.3 million budget, over 70%.
In the latest numbers, recurring expenses would make up $26.5 million of that budget, down to about 55%.
Tumlin said he wants to see the proportion of recurring projects funded by SPLOST go down further.
“What if we put $26 million for maintenance and it doesn’t pass?” he said. “We have a hole in our sustainability of the quality of our roads and parks and everything else. I don’t think we ought to be dependent on (SPLOST).”
Speaking to the MDJ last week, Tumlin said when it comes time to show voters a final list of SPLOST projects, he wants them to include less resurfacing and more new projects that will improve residents’ quality of life. He said he is in favor of carving out more from the city’s general fund to pay for those types of projects.
“My concerns have been sustainability in long-term as opposed to specific projects,” he said. “Between the redevelopment bond, the parks bond, all these things get in, and then when I find out we were talking about $33 million in maintenance, $6.6 million a year, my concerns are big picture, what I’m passing on to the people who are going to come after us, not just the SPLOST, but everything about how we do things. … I think we need to give a higher preference in the budget in the future to what we owe for maintenance, resurfacing.”
The council is scheduled to discuss the SPLOST in more detail at its next work session, Monday, Nov. 11, at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall.