Cobb Mayors unite in push for transit tax referendum to 2024
After months of pushback from mayors of Cobb County, Chair Lisa Cupid has surrendered to the will of the people (Cobb Mayors) when she announced this week that Cobb residents won’t be asked to vote on a transit sales tax referendum in November but will wait two years.
In January, five of the six mayors wrote letters to Cupid saying they favored a smaller, five-year spending package over a more ambitious 30-year plan which differed with Cupid’s push to have a referendum in November of this year. Cupid has suggested to the mayor that this was a historic opportunity to overcome years of opposition to transit expansion in Cobb, but the mayors all agreed that it was impossible to do a quality job in preparing a project list for a referendum with a short window of time before the upcoming November election date. Drew Raessler, the county’s transportation director, said as much at the board’s retreat last month when he revealed that the county had effectively missed the boat on the five-year option. He pointed to there not being enough time to get everyone together, developing the project list in concert with the cities, and hammering out the details before putting it on the ballot.
In December 2021, the Board of Commissioners was supposed to vote on a list of projects to be funded by one — or a combination — of taxes, but the deadline came and went without a decision by Cupid and the board. Months later, a project list has still not been produced.
Five of the six mayors reportedly submitted their letters to Cupid at the retreat. Marietta’s Steve Tumlin did not because he wanted to poll his new City Council members.
The mayors favored a scenario whereby the county could impose an up to five-year sales tax of up to 1% to pay for surface-level transportation projects like trails, bridges, and roadways. Under the scenario favored by Cupid, the county could impose an up to 30-year sales tax, also up to 1%, for mass transit construction and operating costs.
Using Open Records Requests, the MDJ was able to obtain three of the five letters that encouraged Cupid to pursue the five-year option. The county’s open records department said Cupid could not locate the other two.
Austell Mayor Ollie Clemons wrote, “After being a part of a few discussions concerning how to move forward with a transportation referendum in Cobb County, I believe it would be in The City of Austell’s best interest to support a Five-Year Transportation Tax with projects benefiting our community and South Cobb.” Download PDF
Acworth’s Tommy Allegood told the MDJ, “We, the mayors, didn’t have a project list, so we didn’t know what we were being asked to support. We still don’t know. How in the world, with only seven or eight months away from a referendum, could you come up with a project list for a 30-year (transit package)? That is daunting.”Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said, “I was concerned about the short timeframe that we had to get a project list together, to get a campaign together to educate the public, and to get a referendum passed.”