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Cobb County Set To Make Decision On Millage Rate Increase To Fund Budget

Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce has gone around the county pitching a millage rate increase in a series of town halls. Cobb County is facing a $30 million shortfall. Officials are looking at ways to make up for that shortfall.
Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce has gone around the county pitching a millage rate increase in a series of town halls. Cobb County is facing a $30 million shortfall. Officials are looking at ways to make up for that shortfall.
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Cobb County has a budget problem. It comes in the form of a $30 million shortfall.

So how much money is $30 million?  Enough to buy Atlanta Braves season tickets for you and 10,000 of your closest friends.

If you’re on the county’s Board of Commissioners, you’re probably more concerned with how to come up with that much money.

To understand what the county is doing to make up for the shortfall, you have to first understand how they got there.

“It’s not just one thing,” Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce said. “It’s an accumulation of different programs that have added up to a point where we have to deal with these.”

Boyce said it’s things like rising health care and pension costs, senior services and having to fund pay studies that have contributed to putting the county in this position.

Another main factor, the Atlanta Braves. Remember all the season tickets you could get with the money Cobb needs to get out of its budget hole, well SunTrust Park has played a role in this, too.

Just ask Nancy Naidu who lives in Marietta.

“SunTrust Park, that is an issue because we had no say in it,” Naidu said. “Had we had a vote on it, I would not have voted for it, and now we’re finding out the expenses.”

Cobb committed $300 million or about 45 percent of the funding needed for the stadium. Chairman Boyce says despite the lingering opposition to the Braves stadium, he still intends for the county to pay its part.

“Yes, we are taking taxpayer money to pay for our commitment to the Braves deal,” Boyce said. “There is a large element of people here who still have resentment that they didn’t get to vote on this partnership. But our contract with the Braves is legit, and it’s my intention to live up to it.”

Cobb County committed $300 million or about 45 percent of the funding needed for SunTrust Park. Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce says despite the lingering opposition to the Atlanta Braves stadium, he still intends for the county to pay its part. (David Goldman/Associated Press file)

At the time of the Braves contract, Cobb’s plans didn’t call for a millage rate increase. But that contract along with the growing population and services offered have left the county at a loss.

So what are they doing now?

A few proposals to cut money out of the budget have already been introduced, like shutting down libraries.

William Tanks, the county’s director of public services, said he understands both sides of the argument to keep or close libraries.

“A library is part of a five-star county,” Tanks said. “But it’s not necessarily a mandated thing that you must provide. And I say that carefully.”

The county has already trimmed hours and closed most libraries on Sundays.

For residents like Naidu, libraries are a way of life.

“When they cut back hours, it was devastating to some of the things we needed,” she said. “Everyone has been talking about how much we need that. Our libraries here are amazing and vital to the community.”

The public goods on the potential chopping block don’t end with libraries.

Shutting down some parks has been thrown around and even limiting senior services.

If residents don’t want to lose any services, the only option to keeping their way of life may be by raising the millage rate. Boyce went around the county pitching a 1.7 mill increase in a series of town halls over a few weeks.

“The bottom line is that our process has clearly shown that a requirement for a millage rate increase is there,” Boyce said after a budget retreat with the county’s commissioners. “If nothing else, we need it just to sustain the current level of services we have.”

But not every resident is in favor of having to pay more taxes. Alicia Adams opposes the increase.

“I think everyone is seeing it in silos,” Adams said. “People need to look at this in a broader perspective. This isn’t just about those who have discretionary income but the working poor. Those are the ones most greatly impacted.”

Adams says the first step the county needs to take is balancing its budget. Once that’s done, then officials should consider a tax increase.

But for Naidu, she’s all in favor.

“This is the best solution to the problem we have,” she said. “Boyce has made it clear why we need it and what it’s going to do and how it’s going to solve the problems we have.”

Boyce says the millage rate increase will help the county restore full library hours on Sundays, help replace outdated police cars and provide funding for major repairs among other things.

The decision by Cobb’s Board of Commissioners to approve the county’s new budget and millage rate increase happens Wednesday evening.

Then, residents will know whether their standard of living will come at a higher price.