The event was held by the East Cobb Civic Association.
Jane Hayse, transportation planning division chief for the Atlanta Regional Commission, gave a presentation on the proposed 10-year tax for transportation projects that would raise the sales tax rate by 1 percent before opening up the floor to questions.
Bobbi Shams of east Cobb asked Hayse who she anticipates using a light rail line in Cobb County.
Hayse said the county is in the process of determining “who is the market, using transit, particularly along Highway 41 going all the way up Kennesaw State. There’s a lot of students between Kennesaw State and Southern Poly that are possible candidates, a lot of redevelopment going on in those areas.”
Shams also asked Hayse if she believed a Cobb-financed rail line was really meant to serve Fulton County residents.
Hayse said 64 percent of all residents in metro Atlanta leave their home county every day.
“We are a multi-county regional entity here in metro Atlanta and people travel all over the place. That’s about all I can say,” Hayse said.
Another audience member, Larry Savage, who is challenging Tim Lee for commission chairman, challenged Hayse’s assertion that passage of the transportation tax would create 200,000 jobs, have a $34 billion impact on regional gross domestic product and an $18 billion rise in personal income from the efficient movement of goods and people.
“So what would our growth rates be if we didn’t have this program?” he asked.
“Good question,” Hayse said. “I don’t have that answer on the tip of my tongue, but I do know that it’s going to be different and most likely less than what we see here.”
Joe Nottoli of east Cobb asked a question that sparked loud applause from the audience.
“Let’s say I didn’t like something about the Atlanta Regional Commission,” Nottoli said. “How can you vote them out?”
The chairman of the ARC is Tad Leithead, a developer who also serves as chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District.
Nottoli elaborated on this comment after the meeting.
“Whenever I do not like something the ARC has done, how do I vote them out of office?” he said. “You can’t.”
Nottoli said he intends to vote against the proposed tax.
“It’s taxation regionally, and we lose home rule of our various townships, counties,” he said.
Another attendee, Dick Cottrill, related his disapproval of the proposed tax, saying when it comes to the proposed light rail, why bother? Stand on 285 and look south down 75, he said. Assume you live in Vinings and commute to Atlanta every day, leaving anytime between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.
“It takes me 10 minutes,” Cottrill said. “There is no traffic going from Cobb into Atlanta. It all turns left onto 285.”
The original purpose of the TIA was to reduce congestion, Cottrill said.
“That light rail is nothing but developed for two huge economic groups in Cobb County, three — Cumberland Mall, Chamber of Commerce and Town Center — and those have political influence to get that rail — which is not called MARTA yet — from Arts Center,” he said.
There is no need nor justification for the proposed rail line, he said.
“Your group, which is an unconstitutional group by the way, your group has come up with that concept at the economic insistence of these three developers because they happen to throw a lot of money around,” Cottrill said. “They’re going to spend $8 million in Cobb County on selling this thing. People in this room have no way of competing with that. So the whole concept is unconstitutional. If Cobb says no, we don’t want any part of this, we’ve got to go along with it. Are you telling me American citizens who are in a county can be outvoted by other counties?”
Hayse said she was merely interpreting the legislation as written.
Not everyone was opposed to the transportation referendum.
Kathy Slough said she intends to vote for it, noting that she takes CCT to Midtown to work.
“It has white, black, purple, green people on it, OK?” Slough said. “It’s everybody.”
Slough said she was appalled when she moved here from Ohio.
“There are more sidewalks in my town of 20,000 then almost all of Cobb,” she said. “I’m a businesswoman. I use CCT. It’s saved me countless dollars. And I would use the rail. If we don’t do something in Cobb and Atlanta, we’re in the top five for the long distance commute here. It’s not about Democratic, Republican, Libertarian. It’s about we’ve got to help Cobb County move forward instead of being in the dinosaur age.”
Mike Holzknecht of east Cobb said he intends to vote in favor of the TIA as well.
“We’re so used to conspiracies and theories and UFOs and things like that,” Holzknecht said, thanking Hayse for her presentation. “The state Legislature had a shot in doing the right thing for 10 years. They booted it down the line.”
Yet Dr. Bill Hudson, a member of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party, said he will vote against the referendum.
“We didn’t have any input on the projects, and it’s not going to help with congestion at all,” Hudson said. “And they’re talking about going to Arts Center Station to Cumberland and on up to Kennesaw State and to Acworth — that’s more than 10 years. They’re planning on doing this (tax) two or three times. I’m sorry, no. The taxpayer does not want taxes in perpetuity.”
Like Cottrill, Hudson blames the Cobb Chamber and CIDs for influencing the project list.
“All of these developers, the CIDs, the Chamber, the design people, they’re going to get their pockets lined and the taxpayer is going to pay forever,” he said.
A third candidate who is running for county chairman, Mike Boyce, said he intends to vote against the referendum as well. Boyce said there is a provision in the referendum that stipulates if voters turn down the tax on July 31, it is postponed for two years.
“I would prefer to see us do that because I think there are a number of questions that need to be answered that won’t be answered before the July 31 referendum,” Boyce said. “We have this earmark of somewhere around $650 million for this enhanced premium transportation system. It’s an earmark. And I’m not comfortable voting for something unless I know exactly what it is. So I think the best approach is let’s look at all the analysis and reengage again in two years.”
County Chairman Tim Lee attended the meeting, but remained silent throughout. Afterwards, he clarified what exactly the largest expenditure in Cobb’s Transportation Investment Act project list, the $689 million earmark for “enhanced transit service,” would look like.
While that earmark will help fund a bus service from Acworth to Atlanta, some of it could be used to fund a light rail line as well, Lee said.
“Yes it can if the (Alternatives Analysis) comes and says light rail is the solution and a whole lot more money is identified to pay for it,” Lee said. “It’s written in such a way so that if the AA comes and says if it can be rail there’s a potential that it allows us to go that way if there’s a way to figure out how to make it work, but there’s so many ‘ifs’ associated with it.”