Cobb Budget: No Tax Increase, No Library Closings
The county commissioners are holding a regular meeting at 9 a.m., with the big fiscal decisions scheduled for the middle of the session.
We're live from the Cobb County Board of Commissioners meeting, where the five-member board is due to pass an amended budget to close a gap estimated at more than $31 million for the rest of fiscal 2011, which runs through Sept. 30. We'll be tweeting live at the various Cobb Patch Twitter feeds, including @EastCobbPatch, then copying the feeds into this file for further reading, thinking and commenting. The agenda for the meeting is attached.
Just to clarify a few budget things, the Windy Hill Senior Center and the adult day care center will close, but Commissioner Bob Ott said the Windy Hill center's closing has been in the works because it's the least used of the centers. None of the libraries will close, although they will have to accommodate $422,000 in cuts that will likely result in further reductions in opening hours.
The Parks and Recreation Department must cut $968,000 but won't have to close any facilities. The Mable House, however, becomes a rental-only facility, and various programs and services will be cut back.
A key element of the plan, in addition to the use of some $4.5 million in reserve funds, is the pending enactment of Georgia House Bill 280, which will allow the county to move around $2.5 million in 911 funds, $2 million to the general fund and $500,000 to the fire fund.
Ott says the decision to reject Powell "blindsided" him. He says he has no idea why the three commissioners voted against her because they never told him they had any objections. The vote came without discussion over the proposed appointment.
11:51 a.m. And the meeting is over. Thank you for following the meeting with Patch.
11:50 a.m. Ott says that the board usually goes with the recommendation of the commissioner. He's obviously not happy.
11:47 a.m. The board rejects Bob Ott's nomination of former Commissioner Thea Powell to the Citizens Oversight Committee, 3-2, with Goreham, Birrell and Lee opposed. The board unanimously approves Ott's pick of Bob Barr for the committee.
11:44 a.m. Birrell says everybody should vote for the animal shelter online so it can get a $100,000 award. She also mentions the next Mabry Park advisory meeting April 22.
11:43 a.m. Both Commissioners Thompson and Birrell just had new appointees to the Citizens Oversight Committee approved.
11:40 a.m. She is telling the commissioners several different ways they could save money.
11:37 a.m. New speaker Bobbie Jo Ryan, our last of the session, says she doesn't understand why there was such short notice on the plan to close 13 libraries. She says the threat to the libraries "lit a fire under my butt" to get involved and pay attention to the county government.
11:35 a.m. New speaker, regular Craig Harfoot, says the county shouldn't fund nonprofits, but he says he understands they keep the commissioners in office by saying nice things about them and telling people to vote for them.
11:32 a.m. A new speaker, James Travers, represents the fire department. First responders will be late getting to people who are bleeding, he says.
11:30 a.m. He says there is a lot of spending that is uneccesary. Money doesn't grow on trees, not even in Cobb County, he says. (We'll have video of part of Oak's speech later.)
11:28 a.m. Next speaker is a little boy, 10-year-old Oak Martin. He's home-schooled and uses Mountain View Library.
11:26 a.m. "I've got my checkbook right here," he says in offering to pay a millage increase to preserve fire services at the current level.
11:24 a.m. He would rather see the board raise taxes.
11:22 a.m. New speaker Chuck Cahn says he is concerned with cuts to the Fire Department. He says the potential increase in homeowner's insurance rates would be greater than the millage increase required to avoid cutting fire services.
11:19 a.m. "If you combine all the senior centers, you not only will not lose money, you will gain money," she says.
11:17 a.m. A 70-year-old speaker named Leslie Matheny (she cited her age in noting that although she is speaking on senior issues, she is not herself a senior) is calling for opening the new building on Powder Springs Road that was meant to be a senior center but never opened. She says it would work as a central location if the county is closing Windy Hill and other senior centers across the county.
11:15 a.m. The board upholds the denial of the license 4-0, with Birrell having recused herself.
11:13 a.m. Hernandez acknowledges he has made a lot of mistakes but he's trying to support his family.
11:10 a.m. The board is holding a hearing over the denial of an alcohol service license to Jeffrey Hernandez, who works as a waiter at Bay Breeze in Marietta. He turned out to have a couple of felony drug convictions that he did not disclose in his application for the county license, according to the testimony.
11:07 a.m. The board votes to sell 1.75 acres of property because it is unserviceable for government. It should be worth $3.5 million.
11:05 a.m. All of the transportation items on the agenda passed unanimously. Now we're on to the support services section of the agenda.
11:01 a.m. On Item 7, a change order passes to cover a 65-cent change. "Is there any question we're watching every cent?" Lee asks?
10:59 a.m. We're flying through transportation items. The board approves sidewalk improvements on the East Cobb Trail Extension, among other items.
10:57 a.m. The consent agenda just passed 5-0 as we returned to more mundane parts of the meeting.
10:45 a.m. After that emotional hour, the commissioners take a 10-minute break.
10:44 a.m. Amendments to the budget for the remainder of 2011 pass 4-1, with Goreham voting no. Lee makes the motion with Ott seconding it.
10:43 a.m. Speaking to the crowd, she says if you have to wait when you call, it's because they are taking furlough days. She's the only constitutional officer to speak about the budget.
10:41 a.m. The probate judge says she met with her staff, and they said they would take furlough days, but marriage and gun licenses are going to take more time.
10:40 a.m. Goreham says she hopes she's wrong about that.
10:38 a.m. Commissioner Helen Goreham says she's happy the budget was balanced without a tax increase, but she doesn't believe a 10 percent across-the-board cut is actually achievable.
10:37 a.m. Commissioner JoAnn Birrell says public safety is a priority, but she appreciates the work that went into this plan. She says this is the best plan.
10:36 a.m. Commissioner Woody Thompson says he's uncomfortable with public safety furloughs, but emphasizes that it's only for five months.
10:35 a.m. Ott says spending will have to be watched carefully and things should be delayed until next fiscal year if possible.
10:33 a.m. Ott says the "wolf is away from the door" for now.
10:33 a.m. Ott thanks the filled room of people for coming out today.
10:32 a.m. Ott says that if they do have to furlough police, then make sure safety isn't compromised
10:32 a.m. Commissioner Bob Ott says his priority has always been to avoid police furloughs, but he says that's not possible right now.
10:31 a.m. Some people in the crowd are leaving now that they've heard the plan.
10:30 a.m. On June 28 the Citizens Oversight Committee will give its report to the commissioners.
10:29 a.m. Lee says the state and federal governments have made cuts that have trickled down to the county. He also says the school system will have to absorb child training costs that the county has covered.
10:28 a.m. Lee says there will be additional cuts in 2012.
10:25 a.m. Lee says the county has never had to take money from reserves before.
10:24 a.m. Lee plans to meet once a week with Pehrson and County Manager David Hankerson to track the financial plan.
10:23 a.m. The furlough days include the police. We will not let a 911 call go unanswered, Lee says.
10:22 a.m. Lee says when the county built the regional libraries, the intent was to close the smaller libraries eventually.
10:20 a.m. Lee says libraries will probably have reduced hours to accommodate the $422,000 cut.
10:20 a.m. Lee says the parks department will take a bigger hit than the 10 percent.
10:19 a.m. Lee emphasizes there is no millage increase.
10:19 a.m. Pehrson is done with his presentation.
10:17 a.m. The budget uses $2.7 million of general fund reserves and $1.8 million of fire fund reserves, cutting the general fund balance just below the minimum according to county policy.
10:15 a.m. One-time moves (mostly cuts) will save more than $16 million between the general fund and the fire fund. The debt service fund is a legal liability and can't be cut.
10:14 a.m. Libraries and senior centers will stay open but will have to make cuts.
10:13 a.m. Five furlough days across the board. The Mable House becomes a rental only facility.
10:12 a.m. There are $3.7 million in departmental cuts in the general fund, including more than $400,000 from libraries; an additional $732,000 would be cut from the fire fund. The toal is $4.4 million in cuts.
10:10 a.m. The county won't know the bottom line on the property digest until June.
10:09 a.m. The projected decline in the property digest is 6.85 percent, which isn't as bad as the 9 percent to 10 percent expected, which means the budget deficit overall is only $27.1 million, not $31.6 million.
10:06 a.m. Finance Director Jim Pehrson is going through the background. Now presents the bottom line: cutting one-time expenditures, reduing departmental operating budgets 10 percent and shifting 0.11 mil from the general fund to the debt service fund.
10:04 a.m. "We're at a time that is unique for Cobb County," Lee says in introduing the finance director for the final budget proposal. "We're in a tough situation."
10:02 a.m. Children and adults present budget petitions to an officer for the board.
10 a.m. "It's a resource used every day in every way in every region," she says. She also adds a plug for the senior centers.
9:59 a.m. Libraries have already taken a hit with reduced hours, she says.
9:58 a.m. She says libraries are used by everyone. She mentions all the books for required reading just for her three children. And she's just one parent.
9:55 a.m. The final speaker is Karen Hallacy. (We'll get the spelling cleared up after the meeting.)
9:55 a.m. Doyle says libraries are meeting a demand. Closing libraries is a serious issue, she says to applause. "Please don't close any of the libraries."
9:54 a.m. Doyle: "Remember the people who don't have Internet. They couldn't email you."
9:54 a.m. She says people can't afford the Internet at home and they come to the libraries to use the the computers there.
9:52 a.m. She says home-schooled students and many others come to the libraries all the time. Libraries are vital.
9:50 a.m. The fifth speaker is Demi Doyle, who says she's here on behalf of all libraries.
9:49 a.m. "We can't afford one furlough day," Mestre says. He adds, "It's time to raise the millage rate. It's time. ... There's no more cuts in public safety. Y'all are proud of your public safety, prove it."
9:47 a.m. The fourth speaker, Jorge Mestre, is concerned about public safety and speaks on behalf of police officers.
9:40 a.m. Third speaker is a woman from East Cobb, Carol Harless. She mentions that it's National Library Week. Her concern is the closing of the East Cobb Library, which is new and is the third-busiest in the county, she says.
9:39 a.m. He offers documentation of waste.
9:38 a.m. Next up is John Sullivan, another retired police officer. He's talking about on-call issues and waste within the police department.
9:35 a.m. He does cite one law enforcement area to cut: the safety village.
9:35 a.m. He suggests cuts to other areas. He mentions the golf course as fluff and says CCT is "a Dracula draining blood from the county."
9:32 a.m. He talks about furloughs within in public safety: Public safety hasn't had a pay increase in four years. No complaints. But furloughs are hard to explain to the rank and file.
9:32 a.m. He's a retired deputy police chief and says he doesn't see how the police can cut anymore.
9:30 a.m. First speaker is Billy Mull: He says he's not here to bash anybody. He's not talking about libraries, but public safety.
9:29 a.m.: About 25 people raise their hands in support of the senior centers and a smaller number for the parks.
9:27 a.m. Lee says the board has received more than 5,000 emails against closing the libraries.
9:25 a.m. Lee asks all the people here to support the libraries to raise their hands. The count is 200 to 225, plus about 50 outside.
9:24 a.m. Time for the budget discussion.
9:23 a.m. Instead of a millage increase, the plan moves 0.11 mil from the general fund to the debt service fund and cuts the fire fund by 10 percent.
9:20 a.m. April 19 is Patriots Day. Commissioner Helen Goreham is presenting a proclamation to the the Sons of the American Revolution.
9:18 a.m. New budget proposal, called "the final budget proposal," has no tax increase and cuts the departmental operating budgets 10 percent across the board instead of shutting down specific facilities.
9:15 a.m. Commission Chairman Tim Lee is recognizing community banks by proclaiming this Community Bank Month.
9:11 a.m. Commissioner JoAnn Birrell is presenting a proclamation declaring April 25 to 30 to be Community Development Block Grant Week.
9:09 a.m. Commissioner Woody Thompson is presenting a proclamation declaring April Fair Housing Month.
9:07 a.m. Tim Lee plans to move the budget up in the agenda, right after presentations.
9:05 a.m. The invocation and pledge are out of the way. Standing room only in the meeting. Reached the limit, according to the fire marshal.
9 a.m. Only six members of the public are expected to be allowed to address the board.
8:50 a.m. The boardroom is full, with a large number of people wearing red paper hearts that read "I love my library." The proposed closing of 13 of 17 county libraries to help eliminate the budget deficit has drawn out the people.