“Our county is getting mature to the point where we’re not going to have to add another courthouse or another jail or some major capital improvement,” Lee said at a joint breakfast between commissioners and the Cobb legislative delegation at the Safety Village on Friday.
“We’re going to have smaller capital improvement projects. We’re going to have more repair and renewal type of projects, and it’s important that we be able to start at the bottom of our list and let it figure out where it ends, so if it ends up at three quarters of a penny for four years we would like to be able to use that as a tool, as opposed to having to get ourselves forced into a penny increment. We think having the flexibility of putting a list together and having it end up where it needs to be is a stronger way to do that.”
Lee said he made a commitment to the community to hold future SPLOST elections during the general election as opposed to a special election. One of the reasons the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party is opposing the Cobb School District’s SPLOST IV referendum, for example, is that it is being held as a special election in March.
State Rep. John Carson (R-northeast Cobb) voiced his support for revising the law to allow for a fractional-penny SPLOST.
“I am in favor of that, because the county as well as the board of education sometimes has to look at filler projects to get up to that statutory one percent penny,” Carson said. “If we can cut that down to half a penny, three fourths of a penny, it will save the taxpayers money and reduce wasteful projects.”
Including “filler projects” has been one of the criticisms aimed at the education SPLOST IV. Even state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), a former chairman of the Cobb board of education, has said he didn’t know whether all the projects that would be funded by the $772 million the education SPLOST IV is projected to pay for are absolutely essential.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell) and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) say they support the fractional SPLOST.
“I like the idea of … spending only the funds that you need,” Morgan said.
Another request Lee made of lawmakers was the ability to spend Cobb dollars on projects in adjacent counties that would help Cobb County. Lee referenced Third Army Road, which he said is an important project for west Cobb. Because it’s located in Paulding, a county that can’t afford to build it, Cobb can’t finance it. Lee asked for legislation that would allow Cobb to enter into an agreement with a surrounding county to pay for high-cost projects.
Morgan said she was open to the idea.
“When you have several counties this close together, I think it makes sense to be able to enter into that kind of MOU (memorandum of understanding),” Morgan said. “I think the bigger questions are about transparency: how much of those funds can be spent versus the rest of the county. But I’m generally open to that idea given that at the end of the day it’s still going to have an impact on our residents.”
Lee also asked to shrink the current three-month gap between the time a SPLOST is approved to when the tax begins to be collected to eight weeks, a request Georgia Tea Party Chairman J.D. Van Brink supports as well.
Van Brink said the argument governments use for holding a SPLOST during a special March election is that if they didn’t there would be a several month gap in collections between the time the old SPLOST expired and the new one took effect. Shrinking the window to eight weeks between the time a SPLOST was approved and could begin collections would eliminate that argument and allow the referendum to be held in November when the majority of the population votes, he argues.