Citizens committee to be formed for input on proposed transit tax

·3 min read

Jul. 9—Cobb Commissioners are set to move ahead with the next phase of a planned transit and transportation sales tax proposal next week, authorizing the creation of a citizens advisory committee.

The 21-member body will be tasked with working with the Board of Commissioners and the Department of Transportation to develop a list of projects for future "mobility SPLOST" referenda. Commissioners are mulling what combination of transit and transportation referenda to put before voters.

Cobb is one of 13 counties in the metro area that can impose a 1%, 30-year sales tax for transit under House Bill 930, which became law in 2018. It can also impose an additional 1%, 5-year sales tax for transportation projects under HB 170, which passed in 2015. Both taxes can be less than a penny, or "fractional," and can run for fewer than 30 and five years, respectively.

Currently Cobb's sales tax is 6%: 4% goes to the state, 1% goes to the county's existing general-purpose SPLOST and the final penny is for an education SPLOST collected by the Cobb and Marietta school districts.

The advisory committee's members will be drawn from organizations across the county, both governmental and not. One member each will be chosen by the commissioners and the chair. Another six will come from Cobb's six cities, with one appointment each. The other ten slots will be filled by the following groups:

— The Cobb Transit Advisory Board (TAB)

— The TAB's Accessibility Advisory Committee

— The Work Source Development Board

— The Cobb Hospital Authority

— The Cobb Chamber of Commerce

— Cobb Travel and Tourism

— The Senior Citizen Council of Cobb County

— The American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia

— Kennesaw State University

— Chattahoochee Technical College

Elected officials may not be appointed to the committee, per bylaws posted on Cobb County's website. The committee will be automatically dissolved when the SPLOST referendum is approved by the Board of Commissioners, or at the end of 2024 if not approved by then.

Cobb's regular SPLOST package, which was renewed by voters last year, already has an existing citizens oversight committee. That board is comprised of 15 members, solely appointed by the Board of Commissioners.

The new committee's chief task would be to develop a separate project lists for both a transportation and a transit SPLOST package, due back to the Board of Commissioners Nov. 30. Cobb DOT's Interim Director Drew Raessler has previously said he hopes to build a long list costing about 150% of the projected revenues from the SPLOST, which will then be winnowed down to a final slate.

"The purpose of the advisory committee will be to work in coordination with staff to develop program lists and particular SPLOST recommendations for Board of Commissioner's consideration," Raessler told the MDJ.

"Specifically, the (committee) will be asked to develop potential SPLOST lists for each of the available referendum, timeline of referendum, and recommendations on suggested taxation amounts."

Still unclear is when the referendum—or referenda—will show up on the ballot. Chairwoman Lisa Cupid has said she's still undecided between November 2022 or 2024.

Commissioners will also vote next week on a $48,810 contract with consulting firm Kimley-Horn, which is leading the county's M-SPLOST development efforts, to design an expansion of the CobbLinc bus service into underserved areas. Among the transit ideas the firm has proposed is an "on-demand" service, which would serve residents who don't live near existing bus routes.

Eighty percent of the contract funds will come from federal transportation grants, with the remainder being put up by the county.

Raessler said if implemented, the service would likely be contracted through private companies in a model similar to Uber or Lyft, who would connect residents with the broader CobbLinc infrastructure. The project might or might not be included in a future M-SPLOST package.

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