Tim Lee, Cobb County's Commission Chairman since July 2010, is seeking re-election against three opponents in the July 31 Republican primary: Mike Boyce, Bill Byrne and Larry Savage.
What is something that you’ve accomplished as Cobb County Commission Chairman that you’re most proud of?
The most significant thing that I’m proud of is that I was able to develop a budget that reduced spending, reduced the number of employees, was balanced, was fiscally responsible, was fiscally sustainable and as a result earned the affirmation of the three ratings agents as they reaffirmed our triple-triple-A rating. As you know the triple-triple-A is a factor that helps the chairman’s interest rates, but it’s also an affirmation that our financial policies and procedures and budgeting are in fact sound, solid, conservative fiscally and sustainable.
Being able to do that while actually reducing spending—our 2012 budget was actually less than we spent in 2010. We were able to restore our reserves and put more fire personnel and police personnel on the street at the same time.
What are the most important issues facing Cobb County in the coming years?
It’s two-pronged. One is economic development and the creation of jobs. We need to do the most we can to affect positively home values. The best way to affect home values is to increase demand and the best way to increase demand is to bring people to Cobb to grow businesses by having a competitive environment in which we’re attractive to businesses. So economic development will be a key component moving forward and bringing jobs to Cobb.
On a parallel track to that, the economy is recovering although very, very slowly. Our digest numbers, although they dropped in 2012 it wasn’t as big a drop as 2011. We need to restructure our relation to be reflective of what the current economy is, realign our organization so that we’re effective and efficient as we are now, but we can be responsive and supportive of Cobb County employees.
What’s your position on TSPLOST?
Fortunate or not, I was part of the roundtable by law. As such, I’ve been dictated to not advocate for or against. That would be a conflict because we are members of the roundtable project’s selection. So I’m in a little curious situation versus my competitors. I will say this. The process I believe is one of the best. That being that it was developed by local leadership. It’s finite as much as everyone knows exactly what’s on that list, obviously because there’s a lot of discussion to that point. The ultimate decision is whether this goes forward or not is up to the citizens of the region.
Should it pass, another thing is it’s a consumption-based tax. Up to 30 percent is paid for by visitors. In Cobb, travel and tourism is our number one industry. This project is consumption-based tax, which I strongly believe is the best way to go in terms of taxation.
It also had the citizens’ oversight that has to monitor the progress of the legislators on an annual basis at a minimum. So I think the process is one of the best. I think it’s up to the community to get educated on the projects whether it’s a benefit to the region or a benefit to themselves.
In your time in office, Cobb County has cut some of its services and increased its millage rate. Do you see the economic situation improving in the next few years and if so, will you move to restore services? If not, how will you balance the budget?
First of all, I should mention the 2012 digest was down, but it wasn’t down as much as the year before. My experts tell me that the digest will be flat moving forward for the next couple of years. With that understanding if it’s flat there’s no room to add services back that were reduced as a result of the shrinking digest of two years ago. Until the economy improves and the digest increases, we don’t have the ability to restore services.
Unless through my reauthorization that I spoke to a few minutes ago results in reorganization and effectiveness as far as efficiencies that generate some additional funding we could then look at it. My promise when I did deal with the millage rate to help balance our budget was that if the economy improved and our digest improved would be to reduce the millage as opposed to restoring some of the services that were reduced. The first priority is to get back the millage when we can and continue to work to see how we can restore some services to our existing budget.
They’re a parallel track. You also continue to try get more effective and efficient so we can provide more services for what we have, but the priority is to get it back where it was first.
I have no choice but to produce a balanced budget. I’m working on my 2013 budget now and my direction to staff is to keep it flat and reduce where we can. So far they’ve been very responsive to that.