The Cobb Board of Commissioners is eyeing a referendum that would extend the county’s SPLOST, giving cities a chance to jump on board by putting forth a list of their own projects, including upgrades to government buildings, purchases of public safety equipment or road projects to be funded by the sales tax.
A SPLOST is being collected now in Cobb and is set to expire at the end of 2015.
Marietta is projected to get about $44.8 million from that SPLOST, which barely passed in 2011 with 21,552 votes in favor and 21,462 votes against the tax.
The list totals $300 million, but Marietta is projected to collect just $56.2 million, or $11.2 million annually, if the SPLOST were to be approved for five years. The length of the SPLOST has not been determined.
“The dollar amount of the needed projects far exceeds what’s proposed for the next SPLOST, so obviously we have more of a need than there’s funding for it,” said Councilman Philip Goldstein.
Of the $300 million in potential projects, $17 million comes from the Marietta Fire Department, including seven fire vehicles, totaling $4.25 million, and 15 advanced life support heart monitors, totaling $450,000.
“We need to pick the items the people would support and I think public safety is a big issue,” Councilman Johnny Walker said.
City Council members said Thursday a new SPLOST is needed and many of the projects that will likely be funded under the tax, if it passed, have been before voters in the past.
No decisions have been made about what specific projects to include, but City Council has to give the county its list of proposed projects in April.
Council members say it’s important to use the next SPLOST to ensure that promised projects are completed, like road and capital improvements that weren’t finished before cash ran out.
“Inherently our eyes are bigger than our stomach, so there a couple of projects out there that we just need to complete. We’ve got to finish them,” said Councilman Stuart Fleming.
Both Roswell and Powder Springs streets improvements began under previous SPLOST programs, but there’s little money left to finish the projects.
The $24 million Roswell Street project has already gone through two cycles of SPLOST funding and includes widening the road from the Marietta Square to the Big Chicken, landscaping, sidewalks and street lights.
Councilman Grif Chalfant said funding for some SPLOST projects ran out because of lower than expected collections from the tax and fewer alternative funding opportunities, like state and federal grants.
“Sometimes it’s because your money runs a little short and especially during that time period everybody was holding back on spending so you didn’t have the collections you expected,” Chalfant said.
Voting on another sales tax before the one already on the books expires allows local governments to avoid a lapse in collections.
No decisions have been made about holding the vote in November or during a special election next year.
That decision will ultimately be in the hands of the Cobb Board of Commissioners, but Chalfant said while SPLOST may have a better chance of passing during a special election, the cost of holding a SPLOST-only election is too high, and it would be more cost-effective to have the vote during November’s general election.
“I know we have a better chance when it’s by itself, but we have to take that chance, in my opinion,” Chalfant said.