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Cobb Commissioners Raise Taxes

The 3-2 vote, with Ott and Birrell opposed, sets the property tax rate at 11.11 mills, a 16 percent increase.

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of raising taxes now to make up a possible $33 million deficit in the next fiscal year.

Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell voted against the proposal.

The vote came after a 2 1/2-hour public hearing on the issue. It was the last of three such hearings, during which residents were split on the issue.

The county will raise the rate from a total of 9.6 mills to 11.11 mills for the year that ends Sept. 30. Tax bills start going out Aug. 15.

That change would add an average of $105.36 to a resident's county tax bill for a home worth $190,000 to $210,000.

People on both sides said Cobb's quality of life is at stake. Here is a minute-by-minute account of the hearing and vote.

6:45 p.m. The room is packed with residents. At 6:30, 51 people had already signed up to speak at the hearing.

7:03 Chairman Tim Lee and the other commissioners have arrived. And we're off...

7:14 The county's finance director is giving a short presentation about what would happen with a millage increase. On a $140,000 to $160,000 house, the increase would be $82.67 more per year. On a $190,000 to $210,000 home, the increase would be $111.66 per year.

7:18 First of 60 speakers. Head of Senior Services of Cobb County. She's been disappointed with the cuts that have been to various senior services. Supports millage increase to keep senior services.

7:20 New speaker is in the real estate business. He's split on whether the commissioners should raise taxes. On one hand the real estate market is terrible. On the other hand, he wants Cobb County to remain a great place to live.

7:22 Member from the Mableton Improvement Coalition says that group supports increasing the millage rate.

7:30 Resident Ethel Gibson says, "Just a little bit more is getting to be too much. Think how this is going to hurt people. Children are moving back home because they have lost their jobs. Pets are having to go to the animal shelter. A hundred dollars may not be much to you. But it's a $100 more they can have."

7:39 Jerry Hobbs says he's lived in Cobb County for 49 years. But it may not be for much longer. I think you are taking the easy way out. Asking you to stretch the dollars. You vote for this and I will work hard to have you defeated in the next election.

7:41 Speaker says these are difficult times. It's not the time to further burden people.

7:48 Resident Alfred Boatright says a tax increase will be a burden on future generations. It would be a heavy burden for people who want to come build here, live here.

7:54 New speaker says the Citizens Oversight Committee made some really good suggestions to cut fat. Don't raise taxes until you take a serious look at those.

7:59 Two speakers are in favor of raising taxes if it means keeping the libraries and art programs open to residents.

8:03 Speaker Ron Sifen says that the county has gone from projecting a $15 million, to $20 million to $33 million deficit in the general fund, and now $38 million. Something is wrong, he says. The general fund deficit numbers are all over the place. How do those numbers keep changing every two weeks?

8:24 Disabled speaker and her sister. They are in favor of the increase so they can keep Special Olympics.

8:26 Alicia Thomas Morgan, state rep and homeowner in Cobb County. She wants to see them raise the millage rate. Haven't seen such a support for raising taxes. Young people have come together, and churches etc. Sometimes you have to make unpopular, hard decisions.

8:31 New speaker says it is not the job of government to entertain residents, or provide sports. Non-profits and YMCAs can take those roles.

8:39 New speaker says all she keeps hearing is "I want. I want" It's not the job of government to be the parent. We are in the worst recession in a long time. People can do things for themselves. If you need new ballfields, go to Lowes. Get a group of parents together.

8:47 New speaker, Bill Wallace, directs his comments specifically to Chairman Lee. "You have failed miserably at your job. We Republicans will not forget that you raised our taxes. Shame on you. We didn't support you for you to raise our taxes. You intentionally misled me and others."  The crowd begans to boo him.

8:50 p.m. the 44th speaker is up

8:55 Recent Pebblebrook High graduate says she and her friends have gotten 1,900 signatures to raise the millage rate to keep their recreation center open.

9:19 New speaker asks what have the commissioners chosen to give up? Your salaries are part of the budget. Residents are being asked to give up services etc. Some of you need to take a hard look at yourselves, he said.

9:40 Last speaker. David Holmes asks the commissioners not to raise the burden on taxpayers.

9:45 Public hearing is closed and a five-minute break is taken.

9:55 Regular public comment period. One speaker who talks about the Cumberland Improvement District. He says that group should not have gotten involved with supporting the SPLOST that was approved earlier this year.

10:00 The consent agenda passes unanimously.

10:02 Several transportation items are approved.

10:03 Chairman Lee said the county has to act on the millage rate before the end of the month Sunday.

Lee says the county has made significant cuts since 2007. Since 2008 county employees have had a salary freeze. Lee says his priority is public safety and a quality of life in the county.

This would be the first time the county has had to go into reserves for the deficit the county knows it will have. They've cut fees and hours. They've eliminated unfilled positions. Will continue to look for cuts.

"We have to finally solve the issue of the budget instead of kicking it down the road," Lee said.

10:07 Lee makes the motion to raise the millage rate 11.11 mills, instead of the 11.21 he had proposed originally. Goreham seconds the motion.

Goreham said the commissioners have taken a 10 percent cut. She responds to several specific comments made by people during the public hearing.

"What makes this so hard is we are all a part of economy the likes of which we've never seen before," Goreham said.

County should not padlock its parks or lose any more fine employees, she said. Raising the millage rate "is the right thing to do."

Commissioner Birrell speaking now.

Raising the millage rate is not something I take lightly. She's lost a lot of sleep. Looked at a lot of reports. We don't have waste in county government. We do have some inefficiencies.

Additional cuts and furloughs to public safety is no longer an option. And amentities do contribute to our way of life.

Birrell says she's heard from constituents 2-1 in favor of not raising taxes. She's willing to go $500,000 for the fire fund, but not the general and debt funds.

Commissioner Bob Ott said up until now we have attempted to Bandaid something that needs medical treatment. The oversight committee has made numerous suggestions, but not a final report. Passing a millage increase at this juncture might be jumping the gun.

Ott said an increase will touch all residents, not just those who are financially sound. He's not in favor of raising the millage rate.

Commissioner Woody Thompson speaking. His constituents told him they want to raise the millage rate if the county needs the money.

The furlough days have started taking a toll on fire and police officers.

He supports the millage increase. That's a three to two vote in favor of raising the millage rate. No vote yet, but that's where it is going.

Lee speaking about other commissioners.

To sit up here and say that that there may be ways to come up with millions is just a knee jerk reaction so they don't have to make tough decisions.

One plan Lee said he got at 5:30 p.m. today (Seemingly he is talking about Ott)

To say we haven't looked everywhere for savings is just wrong.

Motion carries 3-2 with Ott and Birrell voting against raising the millage rate increase.





Michael Jacobs July 27, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Yes, we're still there, and the speakers are still talking during the public hearing. We appear to have lost the Internet connection in the boardroom.
Pam J July 27, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Thanks, Michael. That's what I thought. My value is a lot lower than $140,000, so I guess my taxes wouldn't go up much. I guess it just depends on your situation (rich, middle-class, unemployed, etc.) on how much you care. But I can just about guarantee that the commissioners will pass the increase.
Donna Espy-Rypel July 27, 2011 at 01:57 AM
We're back online....and we'll have a wrap-up story after the commissioners vote......
Here We Go July 27, 2011 at 02:22 AM
There's a live feed on the Cobb TV23 site
Donna Espy-Rypel July 27, 2011 at 02:25 AM
A consent agenda is a bundle of items that is voted on, without discussion, as a package.
Michael Jacobs July 27, 2011 at 02:31 AM
We're moments away from the vote. Basically, as soon as Tim Lee finishes talking. The other commissioners have said their piece. Thompson and Goreham said they'll join Lee in voting for the full package of millage rate increases, so it's going to pass.
Michael Jacobs July 27, 2011 at 02:37 AM
OK, the vote is done, 3-2 in favor of the increase. Lee, Goreham and Thompson for, Ott and Birrell against.
Margaret Thomson July 27, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Thank goodness it passed! All these people talking about people losing their homes and businesses going under over $100/year increase are nuts. That's one Coke a week, or one sports drink, or one glass of iced tea at a restaurant or fast food place. Is there truly anyone in Cobb Co. who doesn't throw away that much money in a week???
Pam J July 27, 2011 at 03:17 AM
At least we aren't in DeKalb County where they raised theirs by 34%. I was really on the fence about this, but since my value is so low it won't add a lot to my tax bill. It's interesting that everybody I know whose value came down considerably is not really happy about it. But the values they came up with are just about on par with what you could sell your house for right now, if you could even sell it. I doubt that anybody will feel the pain of this unless your value did not come down, and I'm sure there are some high-priced homes whose value stayed the same. So they will notice the different more. But I'm happy to see that Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell are still trying to look after us.
Melinda Paris July 27, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Richard "the Equalizer" Pellegrino July 27, 2011 at 04:38 AM
I was not in favor of the tax increase because I believe they used scare tactics and blackmail but I supported it in the end because my neighbors in S.Cobb, who are mostly middle and low income, and can afford it the least, supported it to keep services for the youth. To me that was an example of sacrifice for the greater good which those at the upper income levels would be good to emulate (then we would not have this national debt crisis). Also, I must bring up the big missing elephant in the room--immigration and immigrants. This Commission, spurred on by many of you who are complaining now, did everything in their power to drive away from Cobb all immigrants, both documented and undocumented, who contributed millions to our tax base--through property, sales and business taxes. And now Olens has moved on to bankrupt state to try and enforce similar laws which will cost all taxpayers millions. A perfect example of "what we sow is what we reap". Hating and scapegoating any particular group hurts us all--we should have learned that from the past, especially here in the South. We could solve most of our financial crisis (and moral crisis) by bringing back two words: "Welcome Immigrants". (And don't give my that nonsensical argument re: legal vs. illegal immigrants because by that standard there would be no America.)
Bo Wagner July 27, 2011 at 01:48 PM
There is a lot of waste in government and while Cobb County is one of the more efficient ones (try dealing with ATL or Fulton County!) there IS room to cut waste. I remember a conversation with a Cobb government worker talking about the wasteful spending of 'leftover' budgets. He more or less referenced the 'use it or lose it' mentality (e.g. if they don't use the funds this year, they lose them next year so they spend it on silly things they don't need). We should require an audit of EVERY department to ensure there is no waste as noted. Also, while I'm sure the funds came from SPLOST or other items, take the 'median' project off Canton Road for a great example--there are lovely 'brick' pavers in the turn lanes now. Sure, they look nice now, but after a few years they will be gross with oil and tire stains. What a waste of money! And all the lovely 'green' medians with bushes and trees--well, you have to pay to UPKEEP those medians as well (thankfully the medians on Canton were concrete). I am amazed how they spend OUR money. Bottom line, I know I personally 'wasted' almost $2 for coffee at Dunkin Donuts this morning; however, I made the choice and I made the money. I took no money from someone else to fuel this luxury purchase. The County cannot say the same thing for some of the 'luxuries' or wasteful spending. No, don't cut police/fire (or even libraries, etc.) but look for 'better' cuts instead of raising taxes. (as above; if $100 will make you homeless--whatever!!)
C.J. July 27, 2011 at 02:33 PM
I support the millage increase as well. Furloughs can't help but detriment public safety. Our County court system and prison system are under stress. Public parks, transportation, and yes, senior centers actually attract homeowners and help property values. Plus there is a ripple effect to additional layoffs and payroll cuts that has a negative financial impact on all of us. I also want to point out that even after this millage increase, my Cobb County property taxes will be lower than they were last year since County's appraisal for my property dropped so significantly.
J. B. Smith July 27, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Of course nobody wants to pay more taxes, but I myself want my taxes to go for things I use, like the library. Did anyone see Bob Ott's idea for balancing the budget in the paper this morning? He wants to close 5 libraries and move the service centers into the remaining libraries! Can you imagine the lines and waiting that would create? Think about how long it takes to get your tag now! You'd be waiting with little Johnny, screaming about his books and videos, and his mom, screaming about her fines! (which she wouldn't have if she'd just brought her stuff back on time)
Pam J July 27, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Nice analogy.
Crystal Miron July 27, 2011 at 03:14 PM
So, rather than paying a team of groundskeepers to maintaining the landscape at public buildings like fire stations, you'd rather send out a municipally owned van, a paid driver, several armed guards (undoubtedly with their own healthy salaries and pensions), and a crew of criminals guilty of various crimes out into our communities? I bet if you did the math, your solution would cost more on top of being more risky for the general public. Or about $100 a year, or 30 CENTS A DAY you could keep most of our services intact, including the lawnmowers. I can guarantee that just about everyone in Cobb County already spends an extra 30 cents a day on junk food, driving aggressively and over the speed limit, or on their cellphone minutes while driving.
Kelly July 27, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Ms. Paris...No disrespect, but I do believe you need to do some research before you make a post.
Pam J July 27, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Please lower your voice.
Sarah Palmer July 27, 2011 at 03:57 PM
My goodness Richard, when did your spaceship arrive?? You obviously are not from this planet Visit the Food Stamp office and the hospital emergency rooms and observe the non contributing parasites. Have you tried going into another country illegally??? How about Mexico?? Trust me, they would arrest you so fast your head would spin!!! Immigrants have always been welcome!!! I have many friends from other countries who came here legally and applied for citizenship. Have some more cool-aid!!!
Pam J July 27, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Sarah, don't try and argue with Richard. He will bring immigration into every conversation. He likes to bring up what happened 100 years ago and try to apply it to today's situation. He wants to lump the documented and undocumented immigrants together, which you can't do. Like you said, try to enter another country illegally and you won't be given free stuff except what you get in jail.
Richard "the Equalizer" Pellegrino July 27, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Hmmm Sarah...my spaceship landed in this country when my italian grandfather was smuggled in with false papers and a name change just like many italian and other immigrants...not too long ago. When did yours arrive here? Regarding the current wave of immigrants those you see at the Food Stamp office are citizens or legal residents, just like the whites and blacks you see there, because others cannot get Food Stamps if you check your facts--so it appears you have a racial or cultural problem singling out Latinos (while poor whites are still the biggest recipients of welfare in this country--and I am not blaming them for that--it's just a fact). And all studies indicate that not only are undocumented immigrants the last to use ER rooms but when they do they are also the first to pay their bills, unlike most other poor Americans. Again, check your facts. And all independent studies, including those by both state and federal govts, and non-partisan research groups, show that undocumented immigrants pay millions more into our economies and our tax bases, resulting in an economic boon and job creation rather than the myth of a drain that some like to spread based on fear and emotion--but not fact. So again, let's deal with facts--not fear--which leads to hate mongering, prejudice, discrimination. And, yes, I have lived and worked overseas in many countries and as an American I often had many more privileges than even the local citizens. So again, check your sources.
Vote Again July 27, 2011 at 05:02 PM
I have to agree, nobody likes to pay taxes but at the end of the day if they support the things that make Cobb a great place to live then I guess the old saying "you get what you pay for" would apply.
Bruce July 27, 2011 at 07:51 PM
the barnes-mable house amphitheater loses about $1 million a year, not counting pensions. it cost millions to build. this is our money. the swimming pools lose millions a year and cost millions to build. sidewalks to nowhere cost about $1.5 million a mile. and the commissioners and their supporters tell us there is nowhere to cut? ha!
Bo Wagner July 27, 2011 at 08:01 PM
I wish they would get better acts at the Barnes-Mable House Amphitheater; went to 2 concerts there but they need more 'up to date' music to get me back. SO they would earn more money IF better acts, but hey, I'm just a taxpayer ; )
John Browning July 27, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Someone wrote: "Or about $100 a year, or 30 CENTS A DAY you could keep most of our services intact," The problem is not this "30 CENTS A DAY". It i all the little 30 cents a day that we keep getting added year after year. From local government, from state government, from federal government. A little more for SPLOST here. A little more for TSPLOST there. Just a little more income tax here. A little more property tax there. All the little drips and drabs total up to be a lot of money! Remember when the state sales tax was 3%? Look where it is now, plus another percent or two added on for SPLOST. We all as individuals have to live within our means and governments, as our representatives must learn to do the same.
C.J. July 27, 2011 at 10:03 PM
USA Today: "The total tax burden — for all federal, state and local taxes — dropped to 23.6% of income in the first quarter, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. By contrast, individuals spent roughly 27% of income on taxes in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s — a rate that would mean $500 billion of extra taxes annually today, one-third of the estimated $1.5 trillion federal deficit this year." http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/2011-05-05-tax-cut-record-low_n.htm
Crystal Miron July 27, 2011 at 11:25 PM
Nice point Chris. Historical data does indicate that across the board we are paying less in taxes, particularly those in what can only be deemed ultra-wealthy, who make out like bandits under special tax law for capital gains and have the ability to use offshore tax cheats. Of course few people on one side of the aisle would dare consider to demand sacrifices from those poor, patriotic, "job creators". (Where are those jobs again?) Interestingly, the area I lived in before I relocated to Cobb County had a 6.5% sales tax in place for the past few DECADES, nearly my entire adult life....6.5% was the normal tax rate without any added referendums. And guess what? The roads were well maintained, the schools system had high graduation rates and many high achieving students, and the wait at the DMV was reasonable, among other things. I very much believe that you get what you pay for. We could certainly have a 3% sales tax rate, and then Cobb County would be as illustrious and inviting as rural Alabama. If you want the kind of tax rates that invite toxic waste dumps and chicken farms, then I guess that is your perogative. Personally, I like living someplace with aspirations for improvement and a decent standard of living.
Rio July 28, 2011 at 01:24 AM
I feel the tax increase was necessary. With property values plummeting it had to be done. As many stated above, with the significant drop in property values, they may still pay less this year than previously. We certainly don't want to cut back on valuable services such as Police & Fire. We all know there is waste in government. But I do feel Cobb County has done a pretty good job with our tax dollars. Of course none of us will agree with everything, but I think if we can step back and look at the big picture, we will see more good than bad in our Leaders and their decisions.
an80sreaganite July 28, 2011 at 03:24 PM
As per usual, government continues, even at the local level, to grow, grow, grow. When was the last time you ever heard a politician say, "What we need to do is spend less." Never, unless they are in campaign mode and sucking up to the Tea Party people. When faced with lower revenues (due to pay cuts, lay-offs, etc...) cut our spending first. Then we look around and say, "What can we sell?" In government when they are faced with lower revenues they say, "How can we get more tax revenue?" Is it possible for government to ever get smaller? I'm beginning to doubt it. As a nation we are headed for disaster and destined for mediocrity.
C.J. July 28, 2011 at 07:32 PM
To reduce deficits, Reagan raised taxes several times: "...the tax increases Reagan approved ended up canceling out much of the reduction in tax revenue that resulted from his 1981 legislation...Annual federal tax receipts during his presidency averaged 18.2% of GDP, a smidge below the average under President Carter -- and a smidge above the 40-year average today." http://money.cnn.com/2010/09/08/news/economy/reagan_years_taxes/index.htm


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