Residents object to Chair Lee’s BRT plan at SPLOST meeting
by Jon Gillooly
July 10, 2014 01:34 AM | 4385 views | 11 11 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
County District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, foreground left, chats with Ron Sifen, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, and Tricia Clements, the coalition’s secretary, while citizens fill the East Cobb Senior Center community room Wednesday night to participate in a meeting regarding a possible 2016 SPLOST. Birrell organized the meeting, along with county department heads, to explain projects on the SPLOST list and receive public comment.<br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
County District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, foreground left, chats with Ron Sifen, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, and Tricia Clements, the coalition’s secretary, while citizens fill the East Cobb Senior Center community room Wednesday night to participate in a meeting regarding a possible 2016 SPLOST. Birrell organized the meeting, along with county department heads, to explain projects on the SPLOST list and receive public comment.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
MARIETTA — County Chairman Tim Lee’s bus rapid transit proposal was on the minds of a number of residents who turned out for a meeting hosted by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell on Wednesday.

The meeting was intended to inform voters about projects that may be funded by a potential 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax.

About 100 people attended the event at the East Cobb Senior Center off Sandy Plains Road.

Birrell was quizzed by Ron Sifen of Vinings, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, and Tricia Clements, the group’s secretary.

Sifen mentioned Lee’s announcement he had moved a $100 million earmark for bus rapid transit from the “Tier 1” SPLOST list to “Tier 2,” meaning the project would only be funded if tax collections exceed projections.

The initial draft list included a $100 million line item for Lee’s proposed half billion BRT project. The amount was revised to $78 million before Lee moved the BRT down to “Tier 2,” where the earmark for the transit line now stands at $72.5 million, according to county spokesman Robert Quigley.

Sifen said he predicted Lee would make this decision because the existing SPLOST, which expires in December 2015, is exceeding projections.

“This SPLOST is going to collect close to $100 million more than the $750 million that they’re claiming it’s going to raise,” Sifen said.

He suggested Lee knows it, too, which is why Lee moved his BRT proposal into the Tier 2 list.

“All of a sudden, the $100 million magically appears for Tier 2,” Sifen said.

Jim Pehrson, the county’s finance director, estimates a six-year SPLOST would collect $750 million. Pehrson said he based his projections on existing conditions, not on the new $672 million Atlanta Braves stadium and accompanying $400 million mixed-use development that plan to open in 2017.

“We’re conservative with our estimates,” Pehrson said on why he left the development out.

Sifen said he didn’t realize the Braves development wasn’t included in the $750 million SPLOST projection.

“I didn’t even include that,” Sifen said. “So you could easily be adding another $20 or $30 million on top of what we’ve already got.”

Clements, a resident of Birrell’s northeast Cobb district, also emphasized the existing SPLOST collecting more than originally projected.

“And the way things are going right now, it’s looking like this new 2016 SPLOST is going to also collect more than what they project,” she said. “Before they put this to a vote before the public they need to tell us what they’re going to do with that overage. Otherwise who knows where it’s going to go?”

Another resident in attendance was Jan Barton of east Cobb, a retired project manager for IBM, who also takes a dim view of the surplus a new SPLOST would bring in.

“As revenues go up, as home values increase, they’re going to have a slush fund for all their cronies, and you’re not going to know what’s happening,” Barton said.

Birrell made it clear she does not support Lee including the BRT line item on the SPLOST list, regardless of what tier he puts it in. Commissioners are scheduled to adopt the list July 22.

“I do not think BRT should be on this list,” Birrell said, noting she planned to speak with Lee about removing it.

Lee was not in attendance.

“I would support the SPLOST list without BRT, and there’s some other things I want to adjust, too,” Birrell said.

Birrell: No ‘set policy’ for surplus

Birrell addressed concerns over what to do if SPLOST revenues come in over projections.

“Unfortunately or fortunately, we’ve never had the problem with SPLOST before of it overreaching the anticipated projections, so we don’t have a set policy in place on how it would be distributed other than once Tier 1 has been issued and there’s money left over then it would automatically go to Tier 2, but how those are prioritized or distributed by district or by department or whatever I think the commissioners would have to decide and vote on that,” Birrell said. “We don’t have anything in place for the 2011 SPLOST and it’s already over projections.”

Carol Brown, president of Canton Road Neighbors, said she attended the meeting to learn more about the proposed projects to determine whether she will support the tax, which would go before voters in November.

“I recognize that many of the projects are needed by the county, and I want to take my time to review the list, and I will make my decision a little bit later on,” Brown said.

Brown shared her thoughts on Lee’s BRT proposal.

“I think because so many of the people that are the most politically active in Cobb are opposed to it, it should probably not be on the list,” Brown said.

And yet, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for some form of transit along the Cobb Parkway corridor, she said.

Judy Renault, who is retired from Lucent Technologies, Inc. and lives in Birrell’s district, said she initially attended the meeting convinced she would vote against the proposed SPLOST.

“I’m tired of taxes being raised, and I was looking forward to SPLOST going away in 2015 and lowering our taxes back down,” Renault said.

Yet after talking with county staff about what projects would be paid for, she changed her mind.

“They knew so much; they knew the budgets. T hey knew how it was all appropriated, so now I trust my county government again,” Renault said.

Even so, she is still not a fan of Lee’s BRT proposal.

“I don’t think that’s going to solve our problems,” Renault said. “It’s sort of like when everybody wanted light rail, light rail, light rail. Well, we don’t have the ridership to make it pay for itself, so the way they’re doing this one, my gut told me this isn’t going to solve our problems. We need to rethink this.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Advocate for People
July 11, 2014
Too bad a lot of dislike for Mr Lee is going to kill a reasonable solution to solve in current and future traffic burden on route 41.

I-75 will not carry the added load, so BRT is an affordable response.

The timing of DOT and Mr Lee and the Braves spelled doom
Kennesaw Resident
July 10, 2014
After riding the London tube last month, I don't want anything to do with public transportation and that includes paying tax dollars to pay for it. No thanks!
Just Wait
July 10, 2014
The fire department has it's own, dedicated tax income to fund it's operations, but there is a proposal for 6 fire stations and more trucks on the SPLOSH list. Why? With all the documented needs of the police department, there is no need to spend SPLOSH money on already funded projects. We already have more firefighters than police officers. Maybe it has something to do with the new DPS director being a fireman.
Would Be Bus Rider
July 10, 2014
There are several routes on CCT site showing routes from the Town Center/KSU area to Marietta and Atlanta. Before asking to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for an unproven road project for BRT why not take the simple steps of increasing the number of routes, providing routes with no stops, providing routes directly between KSU and SPSU(KSU), and others? Also, provide traffic light changing equipment to the drivers so they can breeze through intersections as would an ambulance or fire truck. Prove to us that the ridership is there and willing to use it.
DPS Employee
July 10, 2014
Seriously ....what traffic light changing equipment?!

The traffic lights are controlled by such equipment on ambulances or fire trucks unless you are referring to lights and sirens which is not appririate on a bus.
July 10, 2014
Expand CCT's routes to include this Tim Lee "BRT" junk. Lee is just doing what he always does - spending our tax dollars as he chooses. Obviously, takes his cues from His Excellency Odumba. I'm sick of the BOC doing things without our votes and that includes the Braves stadium - which is padding Lee's pockets.
Please expalin
July 10, 2014
How the Brave's deal is padding Lee's pockets. Please provide proof of Tim Lee having earned money from the Braves deal.

July 10, 2014
I will not vote to approve SPLOST if BRT is on the list. Period! Lee is so darn slimmy. The public clearly spoke when they rejected the last transit project.
John Galt
July 10, 2014
I will not vote to approve SPLOST period and neither should anyone else. Cobb County Government is out of control.
Pay Attention Folks
July 10, 2014
Hopefully someone down at the Chamber is reading the tea leaves on this one and can see that if the BRT is ANYWHERE on the list for SPLOST, it will be dead in the water. Move on and let's get the rest of it done.
July 10, 2014
The comments at the open house indicated that most people are sick of the chicanery on the part of the Commissioners. They are supposed to represent the taxpayers. Instead, they represent the special interests and the Chamber of Commerce. We are fed up with the deception. The best thing the citizens of Cobb can do is to just vote NO to the SPLOST this time around so that there will be a break from this tax (roughly $500 per year for a family of four to spend as they see fit), let the smoke and mirrors clear. Then perhaps we can see that the pot of tax money is actually HUGE. It is unnecessary to raise our taxes. Get back to the basics and what county government is supposed to provide. Fix our decaying roads and infrastructure, pay our public safety people a competitive wage that allows us to keep good people here instead of being short almost an entire precinct of police officers because we do not offer them incentives to stay here. Oh, and while they are at it, focus on maintaining our quality of life, not the transit-oriented URBAN development the commissioner are cramming down our throats with associated storm water runoff and traffic nightmares.
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