Get our e-newsletter

Cobb development by another name is expansion


A good customer service rep is one who says, “We know you had other choices, and we’re glad that you chose to do business with us.” In Cobb County, we’re getting the chance to say that quite a bit as we see our plans for long-term economic expansion working.

Notice I didn’t say “economic development,” which typically focuses largely on the quantity of new-business contributions to a region’s economy. I mean expansion, where you also focus on the quality of growth.

In September, I told the Council for Quality Growth that we need to shift our way of thinking from exclusively economic development to that of expanding opportunities. I define it as creating the kind of jobs that will attract today’s youth who are getting their education now so they won’t see the need to move out of Cobb County when they start their careers.

Local students graduating from area technical colleges might be intrigued, for example, with opportunities at companies such as Greenway Health, a Carrollton-based company that just announced a new office here for software development. Greenway is starting in Cobb with 150 new jobs that pay, on average, another 50% more than the county’s average wage.

Other options might include companies like the German metal-components manufacturer, citim AM, who is investing $9 million in its move next year to Kennesaw. Or, Vonage, the phone company that in July announced plans to move into the Cumberland area from Atlanta.

Most recently, Genuine Parts announced it would accelerate the consolidation of its corporate headquarters with another of its facilities, which is located just across I-75 at Wildwood Office Park. The 1.7-mile move could have, instead, been to another county or state, but Genuine Parts cited a wonderful relationship with Cobb County and an eagerness to stay here and plan for the company’s own expected growth.

We’re excited about all this expansion, and hope that you’ll latch onto that word when you tell people you know about all the great things happening in Cobb County.

(Reprinted Commissioner Tim Lee’s e-newsletter)

Arson hotline offers $10K reward for information on fire in East Cobb Braves critic’s yard

A screenshot from surveillance video around Susan McCoy’s house shows her front yard bursting into flame, after she says a man is seen running away from the scene. Courtesy of Susan McCoy


A Georgia hotline for arson complaints is offering up to $10,000 as a reward for information about a fire last week at the home of a woman who criticized the county’s role in the deal to bring the Braves stadium to Cobb County.

The reward is funded by insurance companies based in Georgia who donate to the Georgia Arson Control Hotline, and it is only given to people who can give information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of someone responsible for the arson, said Sam Heaton, Cobb’s public safety director.

Heaton said fire investigators declared the fire at the home of Susan McCoy, an east Cobb attorney, was arson this week.

“The (Georgia Arson Control Hotline) comes from a group of insurance companies that invest funds into this group.

If there is an arrest and conviction, the person that turns it in can be awarded up to $10,000,” Heaton said. “They have a board that oversees those cases.”

McCoy said if a person provides information about the case but doesn’t receive the full $10,000 reward, she personally guarantees the remainder.

The fire, which destroyed a portion of McCoy’s plastic white picket fence, as well as plants and grass in her front yard, took place about a week after she blasted the commissioners for favoring the interests of the Braves’ ownership over those of the county at a Board of Commissioners meeting.

At the meeting, McCoy criticized the board’s approval of using county money to finance the construction of SunTrust Park, the new Braves stadium to be built near Cumberland Mall.

McCoy said she has filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission asking the federal agency to investigate the bond issuance for “fraud or material misstatements.”

Since the fire, McCoy has said she believes it was an act of retaliation against her statements.

Although Tim Lee, chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, had previously agreed to meet with McCoy to discuss her complaints, he canceled the meeting after the fire.

Lee said he didn’t want to meet with McCoy until the investigation into the fire was resolved.

McCoy said a person can be seen pouring fuel on her yard and lighting it before running away early in the morning of Sept. 18 in video taken by cameras attached to her home.

“I handed over 24 hours of surveillance video (of that day) from the cameras that are installed all around my house to the investigators to examine what they could find,” McCoy said.

In the meantime, McCoy said she has been increasing the security around her home and practicing at the shooting range in case she should need to protect her husband and two boys, ages 11 and 13, in the future.

“I went to the shooting range this past weekend and brushed up on my shooting skills, so hopefully no one will think about coming back,” McCoy said.

McCoy said she hasn’t tried to fix the fence or plants that were burned in her yard yet because she’s been too busy. She said she doesn’t know how much the repairs will cost, but she won’t get any help from her insurance company to pay for the damage.

“I had a fire in 2009 for my house, and it was a huge fire with an air conditioning unit,” McCoy said.

“When we tried to make those claims it placed us into another category of risk (on the insurance policy). So, I am not capable of making another claim of a fire without it jeopardizing my home insurance.”

McCoy said her family had to leave their home for nine months while the previous damage was repaired. The experience scared her children, McCoy said.

“(The arsonist) just re-aggravated some older issues with my children,” McCoy said.

(Reprinted from The Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Hilary Butschek, September 27, 2014.) 

Residents object to Chair Lee’s BRT plan at SPLOST meeting

ounty District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, foreground left, chats with Ron Sifen, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, and Tricia Clements, the coalition’s secretary, while citizens fill the East Cobb Senior Center community room Wednesday night to participate in a meeting regarding a possible 2016 SPLOST. Birrell organized the meeting, along with county department heads, to explain projects on the SPLOST list and receive public comment. Staff/Jeff Stanton


County Chairman Tim Lee’s bus rapid transit proposal was on the minds of a number of residents who turned out for a meeting hosted by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell on Wednesday.

The meeting was intended to inform voters about projects that may be funded by a potential 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax.

About 100 people attended the event at the East Cobb Senior Center off Sandy Plains Road.

Birrell was quizzed by Ron Sifen of Vinings, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, and Tricia Clements, the group’s secretary.

Sifen mentioned Lee’s announcement he had moved a $100 million earmark for bus rapid transit from the “Tier 1” SPLOST list to “Tier 2,” meaning the project would only be funded if tax collections exceed projections.

The initial draft list included a $100 million line item for Lee’s proposed half billion BRT project. The amount was revised to $78 million before Lee moved the BRT down to “Tier 2,” where the earmark for the transit line now stands at $72.5 million, according to county spokesman Robert Quigley.

Sifen said he predicted Lee would make this decision because the existing SPLOST, which expires in December 2015, is exceeding projections.

“This SPLOST is going to collect close to $100 million more than the $750 million that they’re claiming it’s going to raise,” Sifen said.

He suggested Lee knows it, too, which is why Lee moved his BRT proposal into the Tier 2 list.

“All of a sudden, the $100 million magically appears for Tier 2,” Sifen said.

Jim Pehrson, the county’s finance director, estimates a six-year SPLOST would collect $750 million. Pehrson said he based his projections on existing conditions, not on the new $672 million Atlanta Braves stadium and accompanying $400 million mixed-use development that plan to open in 2017.

“We’re conservative with our estimates,” Pehrson said on why he left the development out.

Sifen said he didn’t realize the Braves development wasn’t included in the $750 million SPLOST projection.

“I didn’t even include that,” Sifen said. “So you could easily be adding another $20 or $30 million on top of what we’ve already got.”

Clements, a resident of Birrell’s northeast Cobb district, also emphasized the existing SPLOST collecting more than originally projected.

“And the way things are going right now, it’s looking like this new 2016 SPLOST is going to also collect more than what they project,” she said. “Before they put this to a vote before the public they need to tell us what they’re going to do with that overage. Otherwise who knows where it’s going to go?”

Another resident in attendance was Jan Barton of east Cobb, a retired project manager for IBM, who also takes a dim view of the surplus a new SPLOST would bring in.

“As revenues go up, as home values increase, they’re going to have a slush fund for all their cronies, and you’re not going to know what’s happening,” Barton said.

Birrell made it clear she does not support Lee including the BRT line item on the SPLOST list, regardless of what tier he puts it in. Commissioners are scheduled to adopt the list July 22.

“I do not think BRT should be on this list,” Birrell said, noting she planned to speak with Lee about removing it.

Lee was not in attendance.

“I would support the SPLOST list without BRT, and there’s some other things I want to adjust, too,” Birrell said.

Birrell: No ‘set policy’ for surplus

Birrell addressed concerns over what to do if SPLOST revenues come in over projections.

“Unfortunately or fortunately, we’ve never had the problem with SPLOST before of it overreaching the anticipated projections, so we don’t have a set policy in place on how it would be distributed other than once Tier 1 has been issued and there’s money left over then it would automatically go to Tier 2, but how those are prioritized or distributed by district or by department or whatever I think the commissioners would have to decide and vote on that,” Birrell said. “We don’t have anything in place for the 2011 SPLOST and it’s already over projections.”

Carol Brown, president of Canton Road Neighbors, said she attended the meeting to learn more about the proposed projects to determine whether she will support the tax, which would go before voters in November.

“I recognize that many of the projects are needed by the county, and I want to take my time to review the list, and I will make my decision a little bit later on,” Brown said.

Brown shared her thoughts on Lee’s BRT proposal.

“I think because so many of the people that are the most politically active in Cobb are opposed to it, it should probably not be on the list,” Brown said.

And yet, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for some form of transit along the Cobb Parkway corridor, she said.

Judy Renault, who is retired from Lucent Technologies, Inc. and lives in Birrell’s district, said she initially attended the meeting convinced she would vote against the proposed SPLOST.

“I’m tired of taxes being raised, and I was looking forward to SPLOST going away in 2015 and lowering our taxes back down,” Renault said.

Yet after talking with county staff about what projects would be paid for, she changed her mind.

“They knew so much; they knew the budgets. T hey knew how it was all appropriated, so now I trust my county government again,” Renault said.

Even so, she is still not a fan of Lee’s BRT proposal.

“I don’t think that’s going to solve our problems,” Renault said. “It’s sort of like when everybody wanted light rail, light rail, light rail. Well, we don’t have the ridership to make it pay for itself, so the way they’re doing this one, my gut told me this isn’t going to solve our problems. We need to rethink this.”

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Jon Gillooly, July 10, 2014. Click HERE for the original article.)

Chairman named to influential Atlantans list

Tim Lee

Cobb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee was named last week to the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s list of “The 100 Most Influential Atlantans of 2014.” The annual list, which is selected by the newspaper’s editors, cited Lee’s key role in the Atlanta Brave’s decision to contruct a new stadium in Cobb County. Lee was elected Chairman of the Board of Commissioners in July 2010. He was first elected to office in November 2002 serving the residents of northeast Cobb as District Three Commissioner until April 2010. To view the complete list, click here.



LIKE THIS BLOG? Then you’ll love our newsletter! Click HERE to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and be a neighbor in the know!

Complaint against Lee dropped by ethics panel

Attorney Gary Pelphrey addresses the Cobb Board of Ethics on Tuesday night. Pelphrey brought nine ethics charges against Cobb Chairman Tim Lee in connection with the Braves’ move to the county, but the charges were all rejected by the panel. Staff/Jeff Stanton


The Cobb Board of Ethics tossed an ethics complaint against county Chairman Tim Lee on Tuesday.

East Cobb attorney Gary Pelphrey, who filed the complaint, alleged misconduct over how Lee handled the deal between the county and Atlanta Braves to build a $672 million stadium near Cumberland Mall.

The seven-member ethics board ruled that Pelphrey’s claim failed to meet the legal threshold to require a hearing on his allegations.

Lee said the board’s findings were not surprising.

“I am very pleased with the outcome that all the accusations were found to be baseless, and it was my belief that this would occur because I truly believe that the charges were baseless,” Lee said.

This is the second ethics complaint filed against Lee over the Braves’ deal and the second to be thrown out.

Pelphrey accused Lee of violating the Georgia Open Meetings law by denying public participation in the deal. Pelphrey said Lee briefed commissioners in sets of two to avoid holding a public meeting.

Pelphrey was hoping the board would agree to investigate Lee to consider whether he was guilty of violating the ethics code.

“The matter of the Braves coming to Cobb County was kept very closely held, and nothing was leaked to the citizens of Cobb County,” Pelphrey said at the hearing.

Pelphrey accused Lee of nine different violations of the county’s ethics code.

The board denied to further investigate the allegations, saying Pelphrey did not have enough evidence to prove Lee violated the law or the code of ethics in each case, Chairman Lt. Col. Mike Patellis of east Cobb said.

“When you say, ‘This is wrong,’ you have to be able to say, ‘And, this is why,’” Patellis said. “And, we didn’t have any of that here.”

The Rev. Walter Moon of Marietta, another board member, said the violations of ethics that Pelphrey alleged were vague and unclear, leaving the board with no way to pursue the allegations.

“I find no credible evidence to back up the statements that you’ve been making,” Moon said to Pelphrey during the meeting.

Pelphrey said he was disappointed in the board because he didn’t think it addressed ethical issues, just legal ones. He said the board should have looked beyond the legality of what Lee did to see if it was unethical.

“(Lee) did in fact violate the oath he took, which was to represent the people, and that’s the violation I bring forth,” he said.

Pelphrey said after the meeting that the board made up its own rules as it went along.

“It seems to me that they came here with the notion of clearing the decks — and they did,” he said.

Several board members told Pelphrey during the meeting that the group’s decision was constrained by the ethics code that has been passed and approved by the county.

The board spent hours holding discussion around each of the nine complaints Pelphrey made against Lee, but voted against investigating each one after much back and forth.

All members of the ethics board were present at the meeting, which includes Patellis; Moon; Deborah King of south Cobb, an adjunct professor at Shorter University; retired businessman Richard Ziober of east Cobb; Marietta attorney Doug Shaddix of west Cobb; Darrell Sutton, who was appointed to the ethics board by the Cobb Bar Association, and attorney Angeline Mathis.

The board’s attorney at the meeting was Robert Grayson in place of Lynn Rainey. Rainey, who is also the attorney for the Cumberland Community Improvement District, recused himself because the district has committed $10 million to the stadium project and he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In April, the board also rejected a complaint against four of the five commissioners brought by Larry Savage, a retired east Cobb businessman in a vote of 6-1, with Moon opposed.

Before the Tuesday night vote, Savage said he didn’t expect anything but rejection from the ethics board in response to this second complaint.

“My experience a few weeks ago — I’ll be polite and say — it was disappointing,” Savage said. “The ethics board is not interested in getting involved in a quagmire with the board commissioners.”

Savage said he thinks the board is caught in a political trap.

“There’s just so much pressure coming down on the folks to make it go, and I think everyone gets the feeling of: we don’t want to be the ones to stand in the way of progress,” Savage said.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Hilary Butschek June 18, 2014.


LIKE THIS BLOG? Then you’ll love our newsletter! Click HERE to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and be a neighbor in the know!

Road improvement project to address congestion, accidents


Chairman Tim Lee says widened roads, medians and a new interchange at Interstate 75 will fix the heavy congestion and high crash rates on Windy Hill Road.

The multi-faceted improvement project over a 1.43 mile stretch from Cobb Parkway to Powers Ferry Road is expected to be completed by summer 2017.

The estimated $41 million project will be funded by the 2011 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, the Cumberland Community Improvement District, the Georgia Department of Transportation and $1 million coming from grants by the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, said Jim Wilgus, Cobb Department of Transportation deputy director.

Chairman Tim Lee said the Windy Hill Road improvements will be one of the most important transportation projects undertaken in the next year.

The need for improvements was seen far in advance of the county’s announcement a new Braves stadium would be moving to the Cumberland area, Lee said.

Designs have been underway since 2011, and Lee said the finished product will impact commuters, nearby residents and even freight traffic.

“It starts the ground work for what we need to do in the future,” Lee said.

A 2010 summary of crash and injury data shows the area has a high volume of crashes caused by motorists attempting to cut across middle lanes to get on the I-75 ramp or to make left hand turns into businesses.

A crash history obtained from Cobb DOT said the I-75 intersection with Windy Hill Road ranked as the highest crash location in Cobb.

“Widening the road and adding safety improvements such as medians will create a safer drive for motorists,” Wilgus said.

The Windy Hill Road revamp will be broken down into five areas.

“It was really the funding that separated the project into five different designs,” Wilgus said.

The first three projects will be bid together, Wilgus said, with proposals in July to mid-August

There are two sections on either side of I-75, which Wilgus said will be funded entirely by 2011 SPLOST dollars.

The Windy Hill Road West Project is a 0.74-mile project from Cobb Parkway to the I-75 ramp and the Windy Hill East Project is a 0.37-mile project from Interstate North Parkway West to Powers Ferry Road.

Once completed, both sides will have an additional lane, 20-foot medians and upgraded sidewalks.

On the far-east end of the entire project, a 0.29-mile stretch from Powers Ferry Road to Spectrum Circle will add a westbound lane and replace existing sidewalks.

This section will include GTBI grants, Wilgus said.

This first batch of the three sections should start construction this fall and be completed in two years. Wilgus said it will take a year before work on the roadway begins, because it will take a year to move the large utility poles and lines along Windy Hill Road.

Wilgus said the county has started negotiations for rights of way, which will only involve commercial properties.

The second leg of improvements will be a 0.33-mile project across the I-75 overpass to construct a diverging diamond interchange to decrease traffic congestion and accident rates for motorists using on-off ramps.

Wilgus said bids for the overpass area will go out next July with construction planned to begin in fall 2015.

These upgrades, which will use about 80 percent federal funding, will take about a year to complete, Wilgus said.

The diverging diamond will result in reconstruction of Circle 75, Leland Drive and Interstate North Parkway West. Temporary lane closures will be required for storm drainage and utility construction during the time of construction.

Introducing Cobb residents to the diverging diamond interchange was a bit of a challenge, like other traffic management designs such as roundabouts. But Lee said the region has accepted the new method in traffic engineering.

Confusion over the current traffic patterns leads to tension, Lee said, so the diverging diamond interchange will have a calming effect “with more consistency and safety.”

Although he does not expect the diverging diamond interchange to decrease the time it takes to travel through the area, it will ease the congestion-related issues caused by accidents and fender benders, Lee said.

The final segment at the far east end of the entire plan is a 0.45-mile project on Cobb Parkway and a 0.30-mile portion on Windy Hill Road.

The plans call for adding a median at the intersection of Windy Hill Road and Cobb Parkway, placing turn lanes on the north and south side, lengthening an existing turn lane on the west side and adding five foot sidewalks.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Rachel Gray, May 26, 2014. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Road improvement project to address congestion accidents)

Fleet replacements to bolster public safety efforts


On Monday, Cobb Chairman Tim Lee and District Three Commissioner JoAnn Birrell viewed two of the 67 replacement cars recently purchased for the police department. The Board of Commissioners approved their purchase in February and the vehicles have started to be delivered.

“This is an important first step to upgrade our law enforcement fleet,” Public Safety Director Sam Heaton said. “It won’t add to the total vehicles we have, but it provides necessary improvements to help provide quality service to the public.”

Of the 67 vehicle total, 45 will be Ford Interceptors to serve as patrol cars. There will be 22 unmarked vehicles to replace detective cars and four Kia hybrids to be used by administrative personnel. Birrell serves as the board liaison to the Department of Public Safety.


LIKE THIS BLOG? Then you’ll love our newsletter! Click HERE to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and be a neighbor in the know!

County eyeing a possible ‘rain tax’


Loch Highland HOA Secretary Debbie Fisher looks over the root system of trees near her home that soon will fall due to the excess storm runoff from neighboring subdivisions, causing cleanup costs for residents of their spillway and dam. Staff/Kelly J. Huff Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – County eyeing a possible rain tax

Some Cobb homeowners say too much development has cost them more than a million dollars to maintain their lakes, creeks and streams, and upstream residents need to chip in.

Two east Cobb homeowners and one Mableton man presented the Cobb Board of Commissioners with their plan to solve what they say is a stormwater runoff problem across the county. The group wants Cobb to levy a stormwater utility fee, which critics have coined a “rain tax,” on water bills to fund stormwater management in the county.

They say overdevelopment upstream causes more water to be sent downstream through their creeks and streams and eventually ends up in their lakes, which they have to pay to dredge and maintain.

“We have been after this for about 10 years, and we feel like the time is now to act,” said Debbie Fisher, a homeowner in the Loch Highland subdivision on Shallowford Road.

The stormwater utility fee would be paid on county water bills. Fisher said the average fee across Georgia counties and cities that charge it is $3.65.

“It’s the price of a cup of coffee,” Fisher said.

But the fee is calculated based on the amount of impervious surfaces— such as roofs, driveways and parking lots — on a property, and the fee would be higher for properties with longer driveways, bigger roofs or expansive parking lots. Because the charge would be considered a fee, tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations — including churches — would be also required to pay it.

Homeowners shelling out millions

Four Cobb cities have already implemented some version of the fee, including Austell, Powder Springs, Kennesaw and Smyrna, Fisher said.

About $1.2 million has been paid by the 340 members of the Loch Highland homeowners association over 10 years to dredge and maintain the community’s lake and the streams that feed it.

Jim Wallace is one homeowner who has had to open up his wallet. During the 2009 flood that submerged much of Cobb, a culvert on Wallace’s property was destroyed, costing him $15,000 in repairs.

He says the problem started upstream and he shouldn’t have to pay for something he didn’t cause.

When Wallace moved into his home in 1976, he was one of 12 homes in the neighborhood. Now there are 365 homes.

That spike in development has been seen across Cobb, he said, and the ramifications of new construction on stormwater runoff haven’t been considered.

“This stuff, unless you live near it, it’s not visible,” Wallace said.

Homeowners in Chimney Springs, off Post Oak Tritt Road, are also gearing up to shell out cash that Clint Farabaugh, president of the homeowners association, says shouldn’t be their responsibility. It cost about $100,000 to build up the banks of the community’s lake, he said, and now the neighborhood is preparing to dredge its creek.

“We have to dredge our lake and to keep us from having to do that, we have to dredge our creek,” Farabaugh said.

Some commissioners on board

Cobb Chairman Tim Lee brought up the idea of a storm utility fee when he was an east Cobb district commissioner. His predecessor, now-Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, also presented the notion, but it was never adopted.

“That is something we’re definitely going to have to look at this fall as we make stormwater a priority with our strategic plan,” Lee said.

The county is maturing through development and lakes are becoming fewer and farther between, Lee said, meaning it’s not sustainable to continue to fund stormwater management through water rates.

“If you want a stormwater system that’s going to be effective countywide … we’re going to have to look at the options,” Lee said.

Commissioner Lisa Cupid also said the idea has merit.

“A lot of people in the district have talked to me about flooding issues,” Cupid said, noting this week’s presentation was the first time she heard directly about the fee from one of her south Cobb constituents.

But Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents the Loch Highland area, has another idea.

Part of the problem could be solved, Birrell said, if she could convince her fellow commissioners to stop a controversial habit of transferring millions of dollars from the county’s water department to Cobb’s general fund, which foots the bill for most county services.

Opponents argue the county’s transfer leaves the water department trying to make up for the loss of cash, leading to a hike in water rates and not enough money left to fund needed infrastructure maintenance. 

Reducing transfer would take time

Cobb transferred $17.2 million from its water department to its general fund last year under an $817 million budget adopted in September. A year of record rainfall and fewer customers using less water to irrigate their lawns also created an $800,000 shortfall in revenues through July 2013.

The transfer was about $47,000 more than 2012.

Birrell, who followed Commissioner Bob Ott’s lead to decrease that transfer, says it’s on the right track. Cobb once transferred 10 percent from the water department, the legal limit, and that number is now 8 percent.

“My stance on (the stormwater utility fee) is I have a plan to reduce the water transfer of 1 percent a year over the next five years, which the maximum we can transfer from the water department to the general fund is 10 percent,” Birrell said.

The county hasn’t adopted any resolutions committing to continuing to reduce the transfer, but Birrell said commissioners have agreed in past budget preparations it’s the route Cobb should take.

“I know the water transfer is legal and it’s done been since ’98, but to me, if you’re going to charge a fee … and tag it on your water bill, if it’s needed in water — which it is — … to me, it needs to stay in water first,” Birrell said.

Still, reducing the transfer wouldn’t meet the county’s stormwater utility funding needs immediately because Birrell’s proposal takes incremental steps.

“We can’t just pull the $17 million from the general fund overnight,” Birrell said, adding she’s sympathetic to the plight of lakefront homeowners and is “bending over backward to work with them to get their message out there.”

Development could be root of problem

Critics of the stormwater utility fee argue it’s another way for local governments to tax residents and that public dollars shouldn’t be spent to improve private property, such as lakes in the Loch Highland and Chimney Springs subdivisions.

Fisher contends her community serves a public good by maintaining a retention pond for hundreds of acres of Cobb property.

“They are already taxing those of us who live in lake communities,” Fisher said.

She called the proposed fee “fair and consistent.”

Ron Sifen, of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, is less enthusiastic. He agrees the county has a problem that needs to be addressed, but he said a new fee won’t get to the heart of the matter.

“I think that there are other steps,” Sifen said. “We need to be getting at what’s going wrong in Cobb County so we can stop the cause and paying for remediation.”

If the fee does become a reality, Sifen said it should be used only for stormwater management, unlike the water department revenues that are tapped by commissioners for other county expenses.

“If a stormwater utility is implemented, it is crucially important that the money be designated for very specific uses and prohibited from (being) transferred or used for any other purpose,” Sifen said.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Nikki Wiley, April 27, 2014. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – County eyeing a possible rain tax)


LIKE THIS BLOG? Then you’ll love our newsletter! Click HERE to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and be a neighbor in the know!

Lee touts fractional SPLOST

Tim Lee

Fearing the fractional SPLOST legislation he’s wanted for the last few years was at risk of not passing again this session, county Chairman Tim Lee paid a visit to the Capitol on Tuesday to make some noise.

At issue is a bill by state Rep. John Carson (R-northeast Cobb) that would allow counties and cities to collect a sales tax of less than 1 cent per dollar spent.

The House passed HB 153 after a revote earlier in the session and the Senate approved it last week with an amendment by the Senate Finance Committee chaired by state Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb). That amendment would allow for multiple special purpose local option sales taxes to be levied at the same time, provided they add up to no more than 1 percent.

But when the Senate’s amended version returned to the House, Carson objected.

Lee said since resistance to the fractional SPLOST option was strongest in the House, Carson didn’t want to risk another vote in that chamber.

“I think Carson, the first time he brought it forward it lost in the House and he had to get it reconsidered and voted on again,” Lee said. “He just didn’t want to take the chance of going back for another vote. I don’t think he really cared about the amendment, the process was just going to be challenging for him.”

Since Thursday is the last day of the session, Lee drove down to the Capitol to urge Hill to see Carson’s original bill safely through the Senate.

“I told him it was my belief if it went back to the House for a vote, it would not get either considered or through and we’d lose another year, and is there another alternative of passing what’s currently been approved by the House, and would you please consider that, so that’s where we left it,” Lee said.

The bill has been the target of the Georgia Municipal Association, which represents cities. City advocates oppose the bill because they want the full 1 cent per dollar a SPLOST collects and nothing less, critics say.

Hill said Tuesday night he agreed to pass Carson’s bill without the amendment on Thursday.

“The clock is running out, and to make additional changes requires the House and Senate to go back and forth to agree to certain changes, and that becomes challenging in the last few hours of the legislative session,” Hill said.

Hill’s abortion bill passes

Hill scored a victory Tuesday when both the House and Senate voted in favor of his bill prohibiting teachers and other state workers from having an abortion paid for under the state health benefit plan.

SB 98 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal to be signed into law or vetoed.

“I think it’s good for the people of this state that their taxpayer money is protected from paying for abortions,” Hill said. “We have not changed any provision in the abortion law, we just joined with about 24 other states to declare that their taxpayer dollars will not be used to fund abortions in this state.”

State employees have the right to pay for an abortion if they choose, they just have to pay for it out of their own pocket, Hill said.

“Except for protecting the life of the mother we’re prohibiting the use of taxpayer money to perform abortions in the state,” he said.

Deal used his executive power to remove abortion coverage from the state health benefit plan, but Hill is trying to put it into state law so that if a Democrat is elected governor, the Democrat couldn’t put the option back in the plan.

Between 2010 and Jan. 1, when Deal’s change took effect, about 2,000 abortions were paid for by the state plan, Hill said.

State Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) has opposed the bill because it doesn’t make exceptions for rape or incest victims. Evans has used the example of a baby that was brain dead or dead in the womb.

“If a woman on a state health benefit plan faces this difficult situation, but cannot afford to pay for an abortion without her insurance coverage, she will be forced to carry the baby to term even though the baby has already passed away,” she said.

But Hill said the bill includes a medical emergency exemption that would cover that scenario.

“Removing a dead baby is not considered an abortion under the law because the baby’s already died,” he said.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Jon Gillooly, March 19, 2014.)

Lee: World watching Cobb County

With the Atlanta Braves moving here, county Chairman Tim Lee told a group of 600 business and community leaders Monday the world was watching Cobb County.

“They all want to know what the Atlanta Braves now know,” Lee said. “That Cobb County is the place to do business. We have well-positioned ourselves to achieve the long-term goals of increasing jobs, increasing investments and constructing a progressive economic impact for Cobb County. It is imperative that we all take part in its execution and success.”

Lee gave his State of the County address at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre as the crowd enjoyed breakfast. A Braves’ baseball cap sat perched beside each glass of orange juice.

The chairman called 2013 a very good year, as investments in the county began to reach pre-recession levels with new home starts, remodeling and property values.

“All indications are that Cobb County has turned the corner and in 2014 we are on our way to very healthy levels for all revenue streams,” he said.

Lee compared Cobb to neighboring cities and counties.

Cobb’s millage rate in fiscal 2013 was 10.91 compared to Fulton’s 10.48, Gwinnett’s 13.75, DeKalb’s 21.21 and Atlanta’s 23.48 mills.

Cobb has 4,499 full-time employees, compared to Fulton’s 5,084, Gwinnett’s 4,469, DeKalb’s 7,256 and Atlanta’s 8,487.

And Cobb’s total operating and capital budget for fiscal 2014 was $815.2 million compared to Fulton’s $866.1 million, DeKalb County’s $1.3 billion, Gwinnett’s $1.5 billion, and Atlanta’s $1.9 billion, he said.

The county’s conservative planning and quality staff continue to see it granted a triple-A rating from all three credit-rating agencies for the 17th year, one of only 39 counties in the U.S. to have that rating.

“In addition to the Atlanta Braves, we brought in 16 new business announcements, more than 1,087 new jobs and investments of $41 million just last year,” Lee said, naming Infosys and Talenti as examples.

“An indicator that the business climate is good in Cobb County is the decisions of Randstad staffing and Arylessence to expand their existing business,” he said.

Lee didn’t mention last week’s resignation of public safety director Jack Forsythe, but he did pledge to have the best people, training and equipment and the most competitively compensated public safety team. He intends to ask the Cobb Board of Commissioners to hire Fire Chief Sam Heaton as the new public safety director at today’s board meeting.

Commenting on the talk after the program, Mike Plant, executive vice president of business operations for the Atlanta Braves, said Lee’s comments demonstrate the strength of the community and county.

“They have a focus on creating really economically viable partnerships that create impact for the citizens here that produce certainly a lot of job opportunity, and also we’re going to be a big part of that quality of life going forward and for a long time,” Plant said. “We didn’t make this move without a lot of thought, not only short term/long term, but we’re really pleased every day makes more and more sense for this to be our new home, so we’re happy to be here.”

Cobb Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci said it was good news to hear how well the county government was doing.

“It would be nice to say that the district is doing as well as the county, but we’ll work as a board to continue to service our community and our students, so we’re ready to work,” Angelucci said.

The school district has been struggling to plug what Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says is a $79 million funding shortfall.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Jon Gillooly, January 13, 2014. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Lee World watching Cobb County )