“He assured me that it will” be built, Lee said after a 70-minute town hall meeting at the West Cobb Senior Center on Monday. “I have no reason not to believe him.”
Deal announced the proposal to use gas tax revenue to fund much of the $900 million Northwest Corridor project in early February. The proposal came after weeks of speculating on what to do after Deal pulled the plug on a public-private partnership to build the lanes out of concern that the state would cede control of the corridor for up to 60 years.
Lee said Deal will bring forward a funding statement showing how the toll lanes would be paid for in the next couple of weeks.
As a result of the governor’s proposal, Lee backed off on his call for the state Legislature to take funding for public transportation out of Cobb’s list of projects in the Transportation Investment Act, which voters in the 10-county metro Atlanta region will decide if they want to pay a 1 percent sales tax to fund for the next 10 years on July 31.
Now, Lee said voters will have the $689 million earmark for high-capacity transit, such as light rail or bus rapid transit, before them when they go to the polls.
“I was very concerned going forward without funding for the managed lanes, but now it appears that is going to be resolved,” Lee said. “It’s up to the community now to decide on the approved list.”
Lee also seemed to give a little in his position on pay raises for police officers and other public safety employees during the town hall, which about 60 people attended. Police pay has been an issue since a November-December Cobb Superior Court grand jury report recommended better pay and more benefits to police officers to keep them from leaving for other cities and counties.
After the report was released, Lee said Cobb didn’t have the money to give raises or benefits such as take-home vehicles. But he said he hopes to look at the issue again after the Citizen Oversight Committee issues its final report on Feb. 28 and the county finishes its strategic planning process in the coming weeks.
“Hopefully we can comprehensively look at what do we have to do to present and provide a meaningful employee compensation package that is realistic and takes into account our new economy,” he said. “It’s something we’re aggressively looking at, what is the right solution to deal with it, because not only is it the police department that has problems with morale, but each agency’s director around here will tell you that once a week, they’re having a conversation with somebody that’s just wondering, ‘When is it going to end?’”
Lee said that giving a 1 percent pay raise to all county employees would cost the county around $4 million.
Billy Mull, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, was pleased that Lee is willing to discuss pay issues with police.
“I felt good that he has an open door to discuss it with us,” Mull said. “He didn’t rule it out, nor did he make any promises.”
Lee also took a moment to plug the Competitive EDGE plan, which would use Cobb Chamber of Commerce to fund a nonprofit 501(c)3 agency for economic development. He said the plan could actually help turn people from a life of crime.
“Creating an opportunity for jobs also gives an alternative to someone who might make a bad decision,” Lee said.
The town hall was the first Lee has planned for each of Cobb’s four commission districts. He will have meetings March 21 in Smyrna, April 10 in northeast Cobb and May 14 in Mableton.
A number of candidates were in attendance at the meeting, including Mike Boyce and Larry Savage, who are both challenging Lee in the July 31 Republican Primary. Also there were U.S. House candidate Michael Opitz, who is challenging Rep. Phil Gingrey; Lisa Cupid, who is running for south Cobb Commissioner Woody Thompson’s seat; Nathan Wade, a superior court judge candidate; John Skelton, candidate for Cobb Superior Court Clerk; and Kennesaw City Councilman Tim Killingsworth.
Kirk Callaway of west Cobb said Lee was doing the best he could with a difficult financial situation in the county.
“I think he did a good job,” Callaway said after the meeting. “There are some tough questions, and I don’t think people want to know what the real answers are. It still boils down to money, and we don’t have enough money to do what we want to do.”