Candidates vying to lead the county’s governing board took questions from community advocates in a virtual forum hosted by the Austell Community Taskforce and Mableton Improvement Coalition on Thursday.
Candidates for the race are Democrat Lisa Cupid and Republicans Ricci Mason, Larry Savage and Mike Boyce, the incumbent.
When asked whether they support putting a referendum before voters on whether to join MARTA, Savage and Mason urged caution.
“That’s enormous money, decades of construction time,” Savage said. “We have to be very careful how we make those decisions.”
Mason, a former officer in the Cobb County Police Department, said his support for such a referendum would depend on the wording. He, too, urged caution, saying that existing bus routes in the county often have limited ridership.
Boyce, meanwhile, acknowledged the county’s long opposition to joining the public transportation system, but said that recent surveys show such opposition is a thing of the past.
“The old, tired line that people don’t support MARTA in Cobb County, I think with the new people that have moved here or the younger people that have grown up in the county, they have a different way of looking at MARTA,” he said.
He added that, with few exceptions, “I’m always in favor of taking an issue to the people to get their opinion of it.”
South Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid was unequivocal in her support of putting such a referendum before the voters.
Joining MARTA, she said, would “be a boon to the residents who are in the south Cobb area” and allow the county to “take advantage of some of the efficiencies that come when you’re working with a larger body.”
Candidates were also asked what they would do to prevent a millage increase in light of the financial hit the county will likely take due to the coronavirus.
Boyce said the county is on solid financial footing.
“I think we’re taking all the necessary steps right now to have to avoid any kind of discussion about a potential millage increase,” he said. “I’m still committed to leaving the millage rate alone this summer when I bring it to the board in July. And I don’t see any reason right now that the circumstance would dictate a change from that in the near future.”
Cupid echoed his statement, saying the county’s budget team “projects we may be OK for this fiscal year.”
Savage, referring to a comment Boyce made about the county having money in its reserves, said that money is “not there as the first line of defense against a downturn in the economy.” Rather, he continued, “the first line of defense with the county is to reduce spending and get costs under control.”
“I don’t see the necessity to put another burden on the citizens,” he said. With $130 million in federal aid the county received in April, “We could probably stabilize this very quickly,” he added.
The entire debate can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Austell Community Taskforce. The primary is June 9.