Pointing to cheerleaders like Michael Paris, who is spearheading the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, a group spending millions to “educate” voters about the referendum, Bevirt said, “I’m trying to be even-handed with this, but when I see five people up here selling the same thing, I feel that I gotta be able to come up and give you the other side of the story.”
A crowd of about 30 turned out for Monday’s town hall, which was hosted by state Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) at the Ron Anderson Recreation Center by Tapp Middle School.
“Who do you think is making up all this stuff?” Bevirt asked. “It’s not the county. Who’s putting on those television commercials and radio commercials? Well, the people who are in favor of this have a kitty of at least $6 million to ‘inform’ you. That’s kind of a polite word. So you’ve got to be a little more skeptical of this.”
Another member in the audience, Craig Kootsillas, referenced an article published this week in The Saporta Report, detailing how the federal government says there are no guarantees of federal money if the referendum is approved, even though federal funds are being counted on to pay for 12 percent of the total $7.1 billion cost of the projects.
Kootsillas asked the panel what would happen if such federal funding doesn’t materialize.
“Then they’ll have to figure out if they can rescope the project within the project definition in order to accomplish it,” said Faye DiMassimo, director of the Cobb Department of Transportation.
Lisa Cupid of Austell, who intends to challenge Commissioner Woody Thompson in the July 31 Democratic primary, said she is concerned that the regional referendum might jeopardize future local SPLOSTs.
“People will be less supportive to be taxed twice for transportation,” Cupid said.
Cupid said she’s still deciding how she will vote on the referendum.
“With the different counties working together, it certainly makes a strong statement that we’re looking at transportation as a region, but the rub is, as you continue to have local needs, how can we continue to have continuing support for that, because that regional list is not going to cover all the current needs, let alone all the needs that come up,” she said.
Pat Abbott of east Cobb, who is retired from the Air Force, asked about the $689 million earmark for “enhanced transit service,” the largest expenditure in Cobb’s list.
DiMassimo said that $689 million would be spent on bus rapid transit from Acworth to Midtown. Moreover, next month the county will reveal preliminary information garnered from its Alternatives Analysis study, which has been examining the best way to offer transportation relief in that corridor.
The preliminary information, DiMassimo said, “will reduce the number of alternatives and reduce the number of modes that we are considering, reduce the number of alignments … to a few.”
By modes she means possibly light rail, bus rapid transit or express bus service. By alignments she means whether to have the route along Interstate 75 or Cobb Parkway.
The May update will show what options have been eliminated for the Acworth to Midtown corridor and reveal what options need further study for a final recommendation to be revealed in September, she said.
Abbott said he intends to vote in favor of the tax.
“If we don’t pass it now, I think it’s going to be several years before they come up with another plan, and things are going to get worse,” he said. “And I think it’s going to improve the economy. You need the improvements to get people to work so they can live one place and be able to go to another job.”
Others in attendance Monday included state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), James Hudgins with Arcadis and Jim Croy of Croy Engineering of Marietta.
Wilkerson said after the meeting that he was still undecided on how to vote.
“I want to understand more about the bus rapid transit,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a lot of money, it’s the biggest project and it could have potentially the biggest impact — positively or negatively — on the area.”