SPLOST Decision Looms This Week
Cobb commissioners haggle over details facing Thursday deadline for March referendum.
At a special called meeting Monday night, the Smyrna City Council voted 6-1 to approve a new reduced four-year SPLOST, with Council member Wade Lnenicka voting against.
The original six-year special purpose local option sales tax was projected to bring the city of Smyrna almost $52 million for municipal improvements. The new four-year SPLOST with its slashed project list is expected to bring Smyrna $33.9 million.
Among those projects no longer on the list is the construction of Windy Hill Boulevard for $20.8 million. Its omission was of chief concern to Lnenicka.
"If we're not addressing critical projects, we shouldn't do the SPLOST,'' Lnenicka said.
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee is still hopeful that the Cobb Board of Commissioners will vote on a four-year SPLOST either Tuesday or Thursday, but East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott isn't so sure.
"We might not be ready to vote on it tomorrow," said Lee, "but we could still vote at our meeting Thursday."
Ott said he sent a synopsis of additional concerns and comments to Lee Monday morning after meeting with transportation, parks and facilities officials Friday. "More needs to be addressed," Ott said later Monday, pointing to "potential wants vs. needs" in proposed SPLOST spending for parks, transportation, public health and moving Juvenile Court facilities.
"My bigger concern is that we not rush through this," said the District 2 commissioner, who also represents the Smyrna area. "I don't think we're ready for a vote [Tuesday], and I'm not sure about Thursday. It depends on the answers I get from the list" sent to Lee.
Ott said that on Friday he discussed with department heads the issues he had concerning the proposal expected to generate $492 million in sales tax revenues over four years beginning when the current SPLOST ends Dec. 31, 2011. Previous proposals for six-year and five-year SPLOST terms met with public and board resistance, leading to the current list of projects funded over four years.
"My big issue is moving away from the term [of a SPLOST], deciding what are the important projects and the money needed to pay for them, and that tells you how long you need to collect the tax," Ott said. "We need to identify the critical projects that need to be done and then determine the money we need to pay for those.
"We need to move away from relying on SPLOST and pay as you go through user fees" and other revenue sources, he said.
"If you wouldn't put a project in a bond referendum, it probably doesn't need to be in a SPLOST, either," Ott said. "We need to make sure we've not strayed from the intent of the legislation creating SPLOST, which is to pay for projects with sales tax as you go and not have to issue a bond."
"I think the four-year plan is a good mix of projects we need to catch up on," said Lee Monday morning, en route to Cobb after a trip to Virginia. "We need to provide funding to keep ahead so we don't slide backward."
The reduced SPLOST "provides for Department of Transportation projects we need to invest money in," said the chairman. "I think it's a good blend of projects and a good term [of duration] as we ride out these economic times.
"I hope we get a vote [Tuesday] morning; we've been negotiating back and forth on it," he said.
Lee said one commissioner is currently supporting the four-year plan, one is opposed "and two are still poring over the list."
If the commission doesn't put the SPLOST referendum on the ballot, or if voters reject the plan, "we'd have to look at severe service cuts and alternatives for income," Lee said.
The commissioners will have to vote by Thursday if the SPLOST referendum is to be put on a March ballot; otherwise, the referendum could be scheduled no earlier than November. If voters renew SPLOST collection in November, there would be a six-month lapse in collection of the penny sales tax.
Lee said delaying the referendum until November and a lapse in tax collection "would not be a huge concern. It would be a major setback, though, and we'd have to plan for [diminished revenues] and manage it.
"I believe this is a fiscally responsible list of projects that provides the opportunity for Cobb County to take care of its own," said Lee. "One-hundred percent [of expenditures] stays in Cobb, with a 30 percent discount, because of funds from folks who don't live here" but spend money in the county.
"I believe this is a good plan."