Officials tackle SPLOST and bridge during Sope Creek meeting
by Lindsay Field
February 20, 2013 12:36 AM | 3439 views | 15 15 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ed. Note: A previous version of this story said that the special election would cost $20 more. The actual dollar amount is $20,000. We regret the error.

It was standing room only Tuesday night at Sope Creek Elementary School for a combined informational meeting about Sope Creek Bridge and SPLOST IV.

Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott and Cobb School Board Member Scott Sweeney spent a little over an hour speaking to about 150 east Cobb residents about Paper Mill Road improvements, the Sope Creek Bridge replacement and the fourth special purpose local option sales tax, which is scheduled to go before voters March 19.

Ott said the Paper Mill Road repairs will include the county’s cleaning up, grading and putting in streetlights around a dangerous curve along the road where accidents have resulted in a number of deaths or serious injuries.

He also said construction of the bridge over Sope Creek, which is estimated to cost around $1.1 million, will include removing the existing piers so no portion of the bridge is in the creek, adding tone colors to the concrete and stone veneer to help it blend into the natural setting, and building a sidewalk.

Utility lines will also be placed under the bridge and out of sight.

Construction is scheduled to start just before the end of the school year in May, and the bridge will be closed to traffic for about five months, beginning the day after school ends.

Questions from those in attendance included whether the hiking trails at the national park would remain open, if the upgrade would continue to prohibit trucks along the runway and if the improvements would maximize the visibility of the area. Ott replied, “yes” on all points.

The second half of the meeting was dedicated to Sweeney, who opened his discussion of the $717.8 million SPLOST IV with the statement, “I’m not here to tell you how to vote.”

Last week he was accused by an east Cobb resident of advocating for the referendum, which is not allowed by state law if school district resources are used.

A majority of Sweeney’s 30-minute session involved his taking questions from the audience.

One resident asked why the board did not wait until November 2013 to host the special election when some people argue the turnout will be better and the school Cobb and Marietta districts would not have to pay for it.

Sweeney said the March date allows for a “seamless” continuation of collections between SPLOST III and SPLOST IV, and he said next month’s special election is costing $20,000 more than it would next fall.

He was also asked why five more theaters are proposed in the referendum at a ticket price of nearly $90 million when Lassiter High School’s concert hall was supposed to serve the county.

In response to why Walton High School specifically needs a theater, Sweeney said Walton’s Symphony Orchestra can’t even fit in its own venue, which was built shortly after the school’s construction in 1975.

He also said it was his understanding that the Lassiter music hall was not designed to fit all events because there would still be a number of scheduling conflicts with events.

One of the last questions was about the nearly $30 million career academy.

“You’re asking us to vote on something we don’t know anything about,” a resident said.

Sweeney responded by saying that the district is hoping to work with Cobb’s colleges and universities to determine which of the 17 pathways may be included in the academy, along with waiting to hear from the state about the recommendations of the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

For a detailed list of the SPLOST IV project list, visit cobbk12.org.
Comments
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TaxpayerNo1
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February 21, 2013
Max out the property tax and lets go. The small amount that it is under the max will not break anyone and if the schools need it, then do it. Stop using the SPLOST loophole to rob from that fund when available and use it for what it is there for. if you look at how much was used to balance the budget for the last few years you could have built at least one new school, if not more. I will pay more in sales tax that I do in property tax and will vote no to SPLOST because I see so much waste and inefficiency in the school operations
@ TaxpayerNo1
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February 21, 2013
State cap is 20 mills. Cobb is at 18.9. 1.1 mills is equivalent to roughly $20 million.

The district is projecting an $80 million shortfall.

So, an increase in property tax addresses 1/4th of the shortfall and nothing of the capital needs.

Cobb schools have been free of debt since 2007. Regarding "the SPLOST loophole" - excess proceeds can only be used to reduce millage when there is no debt. That is what the district did. It's legal. Read the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.) § 48-8-121. Excess proceeds cannot be used to build schools that were never in the project list that voters approved.
Cobb Supporter
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February 20, 2013
I hope those of you thinking of voting NO are over age 62 and exempt from property tax because if this SPLOST does not pass, we will all be paying higher property taxes to support the schools. Also, I hope those of you who are considering voting NO do not have any children or grand children in school now nor the future. I have lived in Cobb 30 years, have no children in the system and have paid my taxes each year and supported each SPLOST for the benefit of a better Cobb. The SPLOST will allow all who use Cobb each day to pay a portion of the funds needed to run a school system with 106,000 students. If this vote fails, the district says it will need another 50 million for operations funding for the district and that means those of us with houses and no children will pay more. Please think about a yes vote if you don't want higher property taxes. By the way, those over 62, if this fails, I say we ask you to start paying property tax again!
Laurel Harmon
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February 23, 2013
I am in my 30's, have two children in Cobb County Schools, and a property owner and I am against the SPLOST. The SPLOST does nothing to solve our problem of increased furlough days, a reduced teacher and paraprofessional workforce, or fund raises or pensions which is our real problem. SPLOST can not be used for salaries. Building more classrooms doesn't put teachers in them. Building a career academy doesn't put staff in it or provide transportation to it. Building theaters, resurfacing tracks, tennis courts and gyms are nice but doesn't solve our bigger problem of lack of teachers.

I would rather pay additional property tax to fund teachers and/or have the county issue bonds for its needs and repay that with a fractional SPLOST in the future. Raising revenue and filing it with fluff projects is not good. Neither is threatening seniors who have been paying taxes for over 40 years to fund it is not good either.

It is estimated that SPLOST will cost each family $3500 over the next 5 years. We are going to pay more taxes one way or the other. SPLOST is not the way.
@ Laurel Harmon
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February 25, 2013
To hit $3,500 in retail tax over 5 years at $0.01 tax rate, you'd have to average $70,000 in retail taxable purchases each year for 5 years (i.e. a total of $350,000).

Hardly average spending...

If capital expenditures (SPLOST or Bonds) are not supported, more furlough days are likely, not less.

State law does not permit school tax in Cobb greater than 20 mills. The district is at 18.9 now. 1.1 mill is roughly $20 million. That's just 25% of the projected $80 million shortfall.

If you would rather support bonds, consider that with recent bonds in Cobb, more than 30% of the revenue generated went to interest, not projects.

JR in Mableton
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February 20, 2013
The Tea Party is up to its usual tricks.......please read carefully what was approved regarding the Career Academy!! There is a reason that the project is not fully defined. The Career Academy could be a single building, multiple buildings, located in existing schools, or a partnership with Chattahoochee Tech. A needs assessment must be completed. I thought the Tea Party fully supported needs assessments to avoid wasteful spending. You should be first in line to support the Career Academy!!!

This is a fabulous idea, and Dr. Hinojosa is to be credited for it. As manufacturing returns to the US (and specifically the south), we need skilled workers to meet the demand for labor.

We would be better off teaching many students to weld or become electricians than to send them to college to amass significant debt and find a low paying "administrative" job.

Shame on the Tea Party for the continued half-truths and deliberate mischaracterizations.

Also, can a smart Tea Party member tell us what percentage is the Career Academy of the total SPLOST IV...is it less than or greater than 5%??
Just Sayin'....
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February 20, 2013
Okay Mr. Sweeney, go back and look at the record. The auditorium at Lassiter was sold as a facility that would be open for the entire district to use. When this newest SPLOST list came out, I believe I mentioned this boon-doggle and that it would come back to haunt you. Now others are noticing. If the SPLOST list was full of necessities I would vote for it, but as it stands, I will vote against it, as will many other people. Shame on you for wasting the time and money of the district, the voters and the taxpayers.
@ Just Sayin'
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February 20, 2013
Having watched the Lassiter and Walton performance last evening with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, it's plain to see that the new Lassiter facility is not limited to just Lassiter's use.

Is it your suggestion that Pebblebrook should not have a theater, since McEachern has a larger performance venue?

Is it your suggestion that Walton's orchestra, which can't fit on it's current stage, travel to Lassiter for it's practices and all performances.

Thankfully, we live in a community that has strongly supported and continues to support performing arts.
Cleve99
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February 20, 2013
This is rediculous. If this gets voted down I will officially be embarassed to be a resident of Cobb County. If you aren't willing to pay an extra penny on the dollar for major improvements to our public schools, you are an anchor holding us back from progress.
Just Sayin'....
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February 20, 2013
Points taken, but you are missing mine totally.

We have a school district that is 80-plus million in a hole this year. You want to add more buildings with SPLOST. Once you build these facilities, their maintenance and upkeep is transferred to a general fund expense, which is not something you can pay for out of SPLOST. Where will this money come from?

I would be happy to vote for something that is going to give us instructional time, or something that is going to alleviate crowding....that is not the case with the theaters or other venues. BTW, McEachern was built with private funds and perhaps you know that, but to include it in this arguement is ridiculous.

The arts are important, and I get that. And if money was no object, then by all means, build whatever. However, that is not the case. We are broke. Mr. Sweeney does not want to tell you this, because he would then have to tell you we were broke last year when they raided the SPLOST account during his chairmanship. This is true, right Scott?
AmericanMale
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February 21, 2013
@Just Sayin' -

"Raided" SPLOST?!! You really DON'T get it! If all of the projects on the list have been completed, then excess funds are declared. Those excess funds are then to be returned to the taxpayers of Cobb County. THAT is required by the law!

HOW can those funds be returned? I guess they could write each and every person a check and have it mailed (a very expensive process)... OR, they could simply reduce the millage rate by the equivalent amount.

Because of budget shortfalls created by the State of Ga's "austerity cuts" and Cobb's mandated so-called "fair share contributions" to other school districts, the Cobb District had to raise the millage rate. To keep it from actually hitting each Cobb county household's budget, they used the excess SPLOST funds (according to the requirement under the law) to buy the millage rate back down.

And, you're right: more buildings are planned to be built. But, you're ignoring the square footage of buildings being replaced. If that existing square footage is too small to be useful or too old to keep operating costs in line, it SHOULD be replaced!
Just Sayin'....
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February 21, 2013
re: AmericanMale - We are B-R-O-K-E, what part of that do you not understand? We cannot pay our teachers the amounts we are contracted to pay them. We cannot get a class size that is manageable in many of our schools. We cannot afford any of this. The soloution is not to build more or newer buildings that we will not be able to afford after they are completed.

I do understand SPLOST...maybe better than most. We have used the "excess" to balance our budget for the last few years...which makes us wonder why there is suddenly excess when they cannot fund and complete every project that is on the list. Also, if there is an "excess" every single year, do you not think the legislature is going to catch up to this shell game?

With regards to the state mandate on the "fair-share" issue....each state has this, OR they have a higher state income tax rate. Georgia is not alone in this. I do not like it either, but I would suggest contacting our Cobb legislative delegation. For the time being, let's look at real options instead of this pseudo slush fund we have had going. Until we can take care of the asset base we have, we do not need to add more to it.
@ Just Sayin'
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February 21, 2013
The excess proceeds are from SPLOST II, not SPLOST III.

SPLOST II projects were completed. The county is still in SPLOST III. SPLOST II funds cannot be used for SPLOST III projects.

Your attempt to confuse readers here by combining the SPLOST II & III is wrong.

Just Sayin'....
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February 22, 2013
@ Just Sayin' - Splitting hairs again, BUT, I will concede that point to you. Fast forward, how do we balance this years budget, which as it stands is 80 million plus short, BEFORE the state makes their cuts? Let me guess, we go back to SPLOST and get the money there, ONLY there is not enough money there. Hmmmmm.....that being the case, let us increase our general fund expenditures to maintain all these nifty new projects we are going to undertake. Ooopppps.....no money there either. SPLOST is not going to help us, except that we sure will look good in all our pretty new buildings when we declare bankruptcy.

I do not have an issue with a responsible SPLOST. I do not have an issue with buildings or projects.

I do have an issue with increased class sizes and lower scores and fewer academic hours...and until we get those fixed, I really do not see the feasibility of building Taj Mahals all over Cobb.
@Lindsay
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February 20, 2013
Hearing Sweeney last evening, he said the cost differential per Cobb Elections is $20,000, not $20.
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