SMYRNA — Renewing the county’s current 1-percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax could bring the city of Smyrna an estimated $48 million in revenue over five years, from 2022 to 2026. But how the city could spend that money has yet to be settled, and City Council members are set to hear from department heads Monday their reasons for proposing projects to be funded.
Preceding the council’s regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting will be a 4 p.m. meeting that will have city staff go over their proposal to have a renewed SPLOST fund $53 million in projects over five years, or more than $58.9 million in projects if a six-year SPLOST is approved.
The biggest projects listed on Smyrna’s preliminary five-year SPLOST list include $15 million toward a municipal services annex, $6 million toward road resurfacing, $4.5 million for a downtown parking deck and $8 million toward an aquatic gymnastics and family learning library, with the latter proposed as a joint project with the county totaling $15 million.
“I feel that we should be spending a little more money on the people out there, and a little less money on our administration and things like that,” Councilman Charles Welch said during Thursday’s council meeting. “We were talking about a 40,000-square-foot municipal building, and that’s about twice as big as city hall. I can be convinced that some of these things are needed, but somebody’s going to have to convince me.”
Mayor Max Bacon said he too was not immediately convinced of the need for a $15 million annex facility.
“We need to put more money in here for traffic calming, and other things that are traffic and road-related,” Bacon said. “The SPLOST normally doesn’t pass with a great margin of approval, so you have to have things on here that the public (wants). One of them, I know we’ve had a lot of folks ask about the aquatic center, I know that’s very popular.”
VOTERS COULD WEIGH IN NEXT NOVEMBER
Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce and county staff laid a timeline in February for a November 2020 vote to renew the county’s 1 percent SPLOST.
Approved by voters in Nov. 2014, collections for the current 2016 SPLOST began Jan. 1, 2016, and spans six years, expiring on Dec. 21, 2021. Originally estimated to collect $750 million within six years, the collections had surpassed the halfway projection amount of $375 million by about 16.5 percent, the county reported just after the first of the year. Of the original $750 million estimate, Cobb’s six cities are to receive about $185 million, with those funds split based on population.
But Boyce is proposing a continuation of the 1 percent tax for another five years instead of the current six-year length.
“We have a six-year SPLOST right now. We’re going to bring in way more revenue than we anticipated, and it’s always dangerous to leave that kind of revenue in front of politicians,” Boyce said Friday. “We need to identify exactly what the projects are, no more and no less.”
Citing his previous experience doing six-year budgets at the Pentagon, Boyce said the first two years of such a plan “are the real money,” as revenues and costs can be priced out fairly accurately. “And then the money in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth years we called ‘funny money,’ because it’s really hard to project out, and the sixth year, they were placeholders,” he said.
“There’s no way you can project six years out,” Boyce added, “and actually, it’s more than six years, it’s almost eight years out, because we’re going to pass the SPLOST in November of 2020, but it doesn’t go into effect until January of 2022, so we’re really talking eight years out, and that’s not responsible budgeting to me.”
Bacon said Thursday that he was “fine” with Boyce’s proposed five-year SPLOST renewal, and said its passage was crucial for his and other governments.
“We have a tax that’s in place now, and it really helps out tremendously the local governments. If you don’t have that income coming in, you’re going to have to get the funds someplace else,” he said. “It’s usually been a pretty close vote, but if the public sees what we have and what we’re going to use the money for, hopefully they will support it.”
Boyce also underscored the importance of the sales tax, citing just one area of the county’s spending.
“We pay for all our road paving with the SPLOST. That’s between $35 million and $40 million a year,” he said. “If we don’t vote that in with the SPLOST, you’ve got to pay for that somewhere, and we all know that about $40 million is roughly about a 1.5-mill increase in your taxes, because you have to pay for roads.”
Road paving, Boyce said, is his top priority for the county’s SPLOST funds, adding that district commissioners will be responsible for proposing projects they want to see funded within their portions of the county.
Boyce has set a June 28 meeting with the mayors, while commissioners are still working on their proposed SPLOST lists, he said.
“By the end of the fall here, we’ll have some pretty good idea of what those projects are, so we can take them out and start doing our town halls on them,” Boyce said, going on to acknowledge that selling a SPLOST to voters has become key to Cobb’s and many other government bodies’ futures.
“Once you’re in,” he said, “it’s hard to get out.”