Campaigns over Cobb SPLOST heat up

Advocates and opponents of a measure to renew a 1 percent Cobb County sales tax for their public schools will spend the coming days encouraging people to vote, with rallies, sign waving, fliers and social media.

The Cobb and city of Marietta districts would use the projected $773 million collected from the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, for hundreds of projects including repairing or replacing dilapidated buildings and athletic facilities and constructing a $29 million college and career academy.

Supporters say the sales tax is desperately needed in times of deep budget cuts for public education. Generating money for capital projects through a sales tax rather than bonds, administrators say, spreads the financial burden among homeowners, the business community and visitors to the county.

“This is the right answer for a strong school system, housing values and future economic development,” said John Loud, a parent in the district who has advocated for the SPLOST renewal.

Opponents of the sales tax say the district has been irresponsible with past SPLOST projects, such as turf on athletic practice fields. Other projects, such as upgrades to football stadiums, don’t relate to education.

“Everyone says if you don’t vote for SPLOST, then you’re voting against children,” said Kimberley Euston, the past chairwoman of the Facilities and Technology Committee, a group made up of Cobb residents that is charged with overseeing the spending of SPLOST funds. “I live in the Walton community. I have three kids who will benefit from a brand new school” if SPLOST passes. “But I want our government officials to be fiscally responsible with our money. I don’t believe building concession stands relates to education.”

School administrators point to several clean audits of construction projects and a transparent spending process.

As of Thursday, just 5,367 people of the more than 420,000 people eligible had cast early votes.

That’s troubling to both opponents and supporters who say the result may not reflect what residents want.

With no advanced polling, it’s hard to tell how the referendum will fare on Tuesday.

The SPLOST option was provided in 1996 to school districts as a way to fund capital projects. Of the 562 education tax referendums held statewide since 1996, 94 percent have been approved by voters, a 2012 study found.

Cobb’s first proposal for an education sales tax failed. The three campaigns since have been successful, with the last education SPLOST in 2008 passing with 60 percent approval.

In that election, 9.6 percent of the county’s eligible voters cast ballots.

In July of last year, almost 69 percent of Cobb’s voters struck down the 1 percent regional transportation SPLOST that would have funded road and mass transit projects across 10 counties.

In 2011, a four-year extension of a SPLOST for parks, recreation and road renovation throughout Cobb passed by only 79 votes.

To view a list of projects, visit the district’s website at http://www.cobbk12.org/SPLOST/.