CUMBERLAND — Commissioner Bob Ott recommended voters take a “long look” at the list of projects to be funded by a proposed one percent special sales tax before deciding to approve it.
At a public information meeting Tuesday, Ott said while he is not permitted to advocate for or against the proposed 2016 special purpose local option sales tax, he is allowed to educate voters. He said he recommends each person research the tax, expected to raise $750 million over its six-year life, as well as the projects the county plans to fund with the money it raises.
“They need to take a long look at the list to make sure that they understand what they are voting for and then they have to decide if it’s something they can support or not,” Ott said.
On July 22, Ott was the lone vote against putting the SPLOST measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, saying at the time he thought the project list strays too far from “special purpose.” He said he supports the portions of the project list to be used for public safety, but there are “too many projects on there that I don’t think are needs.”
The commissioner would not say Tuesday whether he would vote for the measure as a private citizen, but pointed to his vote in July as an indicator of how he might fill out his ballot.
“I think my vote at the commission kind of speaks (to) what I think about the list,” he said. “But you know, as we’ve discussed, we’re not supposed to advocate one way or the other.”
Citizens weigh in
About 15 to 20 residents came and went during the first hour of the meeting, held at the Boy Scouts of America building on Circle 75 Parkway in Cumberland.
Heather Hughes, a drafter and designer for Jacksonville, Fla.-based engineering firm RS&H Inc., said at Tuesday’s meeting she was “definitely” going to vote to approve the SPLOST.
“I’m a little biased since, you know, there’s a lot of transportation stuff and my company does do work for Cobb County — we’re one of their on-call companies for transportation,” she said. “That being said, I’ve worked with Cobb County for, probably, almost eight years now, and they truly do what they say they’re going to do. When they say, ‘These are the projects we want to do with this money,’ they actually do it. They follow through.”
Hughes of Cumberland said she was particularly excited about the county’s Parks and Recreation department’s plan to install synthetic turf at the Hubert and Mud Creek soccer complexes and Terrell Mill Park, which the county says will save money in maintenance and upkeep. Hughes said she thinks the project will be “better for the kids and, long-term, for the county as well.”
County officials have “thought through what they want and how best to spend the money,” Hughes added.
Greg Euston of east Cobb said he hasn’t decided which way he will vote in November because he isn’t sure all the projects are truly needed.
“You know, certainly we have transportation problems,” he said. “We have needs in all of these areas. But is every project on the list really necessary?”
Euston, a principal at Atlanta-based public relations firm McGraw Euston Associates, said he would have been more comfortable if the county was able to institute a fractional SPLOST because it would have helped county officials prioritize the projects on the list.
A bill by state Rep. John Carson (R-northeast Cobb) in the Georgia legislature this year would have allowed for SPLOSTs to be levied at less than one percent, but the bill never made it to the governor’s desk.
Euston said he doesn’t know “that we couldn’t live” without some of the projects on the list, so he needs to take more time to decide how to vote.
Euston’s son, Chris, is a 13-year-old Boy Scout and was at the meeting to fulfill a requirement for a merit badge. After speaking with government officials and citizens at the meeting, Chris, who attends Dickerson Middle School, said if he could vote, he would not vote for the SPLOST.
“A majority of it is pointless, besides the 55 percent (going to) transportation,” Chris said. “I believe that 55 percent of SPLOST dollars should be (used) to improve school safety and build roads because roads and education are not funded as well as they should be.”
Fran Mitchell, a retired Marietta resident, said she was voting no in November, citing a lack of specificity in the project list and the necessity of some of the projects as her main concerns.
“It’s feel-good stuff. And I think we all have feel-good stuff. But with the economy the way it is today, people are hurting. And do people really have the extra money for this?” she asked.
Mitchell said she disagreed with the $23.2 million the county plans to spend on libraries, saying she doesn’t think people use libraries as much as they used to. Most of all, she said she wanted the county to be more responsible with its tax revenue.
“Should we not be very smart with our tax dollars? We need to be smart. We’re not smart with our tax dollars today. The federal government is wasting it. The state is wasting it. And then we’ve got the county wasting it. They all (go) on a spending spree and it hasn’t stopped yet.”