Transportation Hot Topic at Town-Hall Meeting
Tim Lee fielded TSPLOST questions at his first town-hall meeting in Northeast Cobb since becoming Cobb Board of Commissioners chairman.
Transportation was the central theme at the Mountain View Community Center Tuesday as about 75 residents gathered to get an update on the county from Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who is running for a second term in the July 31 primary.
"I've missed these opportunities to speak with residents," said Lee, who brought about 15 staffers from several departments to help answer questions. Most of those questions dealt with transportation issues facing the county, including the $984 million tax referendum Cobb residents will vote on in the July 31 election. If approved, the 1 percent sales tax could raise $8 billion over 10 years to go toward road and transit projects in the 10-county metro-Atlanta area.
"About 98 percent of that money stays in Cobb," said Lee of the $984 million figure, adding relieving traffic congestion on the I-75 corridor is the main priority of both city and county planners. "Is it a perfect list? No," said Lee. "Because there are too many problems and not enough money to address them."
Lee said 60 percent of Cherokee County commuters pass through Cobb daily on their way to Atlanta, and 60 percent of Cobb County workers leave the county daily for jobs. Several of the TSPLOST projects address issues at the I-575 and Windy Hill interchanges, he said, hopefully making commute times shorter for those travelers.
Many of those in attendance questioned why Cobb taxpayers should pay for traffic improvements for Cherokee and other out-of-county commuters. Lee said the commuters would be paying into the projects as well. He also added that an Alternative Analysis study on light rail would be completed later this spring, giving county officials a better handle on the future of rail in Cobb.
"In the event light rail is the preferred technology, and we find funding and capital, then the opportunity for light rail will exist," said Lee.
The Transportation Investment Act (TIA) project #35 will be fully explained on the ballot, said Lee, adding he is asking for a premier bus service of some type from Atlanta to Acworth along the I-75 corridor, which will just need an investment in buses and parking for now.
Many residents asked if right-of-ways were going to be cleaned up around their neighborhoods.
"Two things were against us in that endeavor," said Lee, adding they tried to bring that service in-house. "Budget issues and the fact we didn't have a winter. The grass and weeds were growing faster than we could keep up with."
The commissioners voted Tuesday to hire additional seasonal workers to solve the problem, said Lee.
Another resident asked why the county doesn't privatize more services and get away from "big government."
"We try to outsource every place we can, but sometimes it's not always cost-effective," said Lee, adding the county is also trying to support the "Keep It in Cobb" initiative started by Northeast Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell. "Sometimes it becomes too expensive to keep it in Cobb--there is a balance we have to keep."
Lee also said that economic development and creating "jobs, jobs, jobs" has been a priority for commissioners. In 2011, Cobb created 10,809 jobs, nearly a third of the total of 34,300 created in metro Atlanta, said Lee.
Lee said Cobb County has weathered the economic storm well after budget cuts and even a 3.7 percent drop in the tax digest for a second year in a row, which won't affect any more services. "We are well positioned to manage and handle that," said Lee. "We have successfully reduced the size of government as we move forward into the future."