Cobb was telling voters the BRT is not on the SPLOST, even when there were projects on the list through July 14 that explicitly stated they were BRT projects.
On July 15 Cobb County removed the words “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)” from the descriptions of BRT component projects that are still on the SPLOST list. But, even now, there are still projects on the proposed SPLOST list that would allocate funds to components of the BRT project.
• July 8 — Board of Commissioners meeting — Chairman Tim Lee stated multiple times he was moving BRT to the Tier 2 SPLOST list.
• July 9 — MDJ Page 1 article reports Cobb’s move of BRT to Tier 2. It specifies $72.5 million of BRT-related projects being moved to Tier 2. This $72.5 million package of projects was created by chopping up the BRT project into a lot of component projects and then selecting several that could be labeled as intersection improvements, not identifying them as part of the BRT, even though they are pieces of the BRT project.
• July 9 — On the CobbCounty.org SPLOST webpage, in the FAQ section, Cobb posted a commonly asked question: Is BRT on the SPLOST? Cobb’s answer claims BRT is not on the Tier 1 or Tier 2 list. Remember that one day earlier, Lee stated during the BoC meeting he had moved BRT onto the Tier 2 list.
From July 9 through July 14, the entire $494 million for BRT was still on the list, and explicitly identified as “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)” and “Cobb Connect.”
Also from July 9 through July 14, there was another $60 million project explicitly identified as a BRT project. This $60 million project is still on the list. Cobb merely changed the description, eliminating the words “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).”
So, Cobb’s FAQ says BRT is not on the SPLOST, while simultaneously, the projects list explicitly listed two BRT projects. Hmmmm.
• July 15 — The words “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)” were removed from the SPLOST list.
The $72.5 million item on Tier 2 is clearly components of the BRT project. Cobb has come up with a justification for these projects beyond BRT, but they are still components of the BRT project.
The $72.5 million of projects was not on the original unconstrained list. This item only appeared after all four district commissioners came out against including BRT on the SPLOST. If these were really planned, needed intersection improvements, independent of BRT, they would have been on the original list. In addition, they were never discussed with the district commissioners before they were suddenly added to the list.
There are at least $132.5 million of projects still on the list that are components of the BRT project. If the SPLOST is approved with these items on the SPLOST list, it will enable Cobb to spend at least $132.5 million of SPLOST dollars on components of the BRT project, despite Cobb’s claims that BRT is not on the list.
July 18 — Cobb added new BRT denial language: “(For purposes of clarification, the proposed 2016 SPLOST does not include funding for the BRT/Connect Cobb project).” This statement is meaningless, except in reference to the $494 million entire Cobb Connect project, which has indeed been removed. This language does not prevent using SPLOST dollars to build components of the BRT project, as long as those projects are on the list, which they are.
There is another huge deception on the SPLOST. Cobb is claiming the new SPLOST will raise $125 million per year for six years and will therefore raise a total of $750 million. However, the current SPLOST is already raising more than $130 million this year, and as the economy continues to recover, the SPLOST tax collections will continue to increase every year.
In addition, the increased economic activity from the Braves will generate a huge additional increase in SPLOST tax collections.
Realistically, the new SPLOST will almost certainly raise more than $825 million, and could possibly even raise closer to $900 million. This is how projects on the Tier 2 list will get funded.
There appear to be significant conflicts and contradictions. Is this all a “Grand Deception” to trick voters into authorizing SPLOST dollars to be allocated to components of the BRT, while denying that BRT is on the SPLOST?
Hopefully, at least three commissioners will not allow “The Deception SPLOST” to go on the ballot.
Commissioners can make this an honest SPLOST by:
• Removing the $72.5 million for BRT-component projects from the Tier 2 list
• Removing the $60 million disguised BRT project from the Tier-1-equivalent list
• Adding language that prohibits Cobb from using any projects on this SPLOST as matching investments to qualify to receive grants for the Cobb Parkway BRT project.
Ron Sifen is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.