Overview: Park Bond 2008 is a $40 million voter-approved Referendum that has not yet been funded by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, and the Park Bond 2008 money is now being reallocated to another project, specifically the Braves SunTrust stadium financing, before funding the Park Bonds as voters decided in 2008. Read Sunday's AJC article about it here and the January 20 MDJ article about it here.
Voter Referendums are binding in democracies, and the Park Bond 2008 funding is earmarked & already available without a tax increase. Cobb voters approved the $40 million for parkland preservation in 2008, but the Board of Commissioners has never funded the bonds, and now the Park Bond money is actually being reallocated to fund another project. A recent Georgia Supreme Court case on Referendums ruled in favor of voters' rights.
The loss of Cobb history and family legacies grows each day: Of the 29 properties slated for purchase as parks in 2009, most properties have already been bought by developers, cleared of trees and developed. The remaining properties from the 2009 list are under threat of development. Therefore, the Park Bond funding timeline is beyond critical. After waiting nearly 8 years for voter-approved Referendum funding, there is no need for the Board of Commissioners to start a 10-month panel review. (See details below.)
3 Ways to Help the Park Bonds
Here is the Cobb County Atlanta Braves SunTrust Park FAQ Page explaining how the Braves stadium funding uses Park Bond money, but note Park Bond 2008 has not yet been funded. That is the key issue.
- Will my property taxes be used to pay for this (the new Braves stadium)?
Currently .33 mills of your property taxes pay for the parks bonds that were issued in 1996, 2007 and 2008. The last of those bonds will be paid off in 2017 and 2018. The millage will then be shifted to the General Fund when these bonds expire to raise an equivalent amount of revenues of $8.67 million. Those monies will then be used to pay for bonds to finance SunTrust Park construction. The average amount of .33 mills per household is $26 per year and this shift of funding will not impact other government services such as police, libraries, parks and other services. From Cobb County Atlanta Braves SunTrust Park FAQ Page
The $40 million Park Bond 2008 can easily be funded before moving the money into the Braves stadium.
#2. The Board Claims Park Bond Funding Time Has Run Out, When the Board Set the Clock:
Chairman Lee claims Park Bond 2008 cannot be fully funded with the entire $40 million as voters approved, even though it was the Cobb County Board of Commissioners that decided 7 years ago not to fund the Park Bond 2008 Referendum. 67% of Cobb voters approved the 2008 Park Bond Referendum. Now Chairman Lee wants to say the Park Bond has "run out" of funding, despite the fact that it was the Board that decided not to fund it in 2009!
Clearly, if the Board can change the Park Bond by not issuing it, the Board can change the Park Bond repayment timeline and fully fund it now, as voters decided by Referendum vote in 2008. The Park Bond amount must honor the original vote for $40 million, not some arbitrary amount, especially now when the Board is moving the Park Bond money for another project, in this case the Braves stadium.
#3. The Board Should Prevent Further Loss of Cobb Property, History & Family Legacies:
Of the 29 properties selected for purchase around Cobb County, many have already been developed. Waiting another second before funding this Park Bond would be irresponsible. Many landowners on the 2009 list have lived in Cobb County for generations, and streets, neighborhoods and schools have been named for them. These philanthropists and pillars of society have been waiting to save their land for the community and greater good for years. Many historical homes, barns, and farmland and the stories they contain will continue to be lost if the 2008 Park Bond is not fully funded now.
According to the Chairman's plan, January 26 will set in motion at least a 10-month review process before making any true funding decisions. If the Park Bond is not funded before May 2016, the Chairman's Park Bond efforts would appear like an election year scheme.
After waiting more than 7 years to donate their land for a park, many families sold their beautiful perfectly located properties. Don't let another property disappear. Let the Board know, it's time to fund the Park Bond now.
#4. How the Board Can Authorize Park Bond Repayment in Just 4 years & No Tax Increase:
Funding Park Bond 2008 requires no tax increase, because more than enough millage currently exists in the long-standing Debt Service Fund to repay Park Bond 2008 in just 4 years time, well within the original 2023 time frame.
In November 2013, the original Braves stadium plan took all Park Bond money (.33 millage), but then at the 2-year anniversary of the Braves announcement in November 2015, Chairman Lee said only .23 will be required for the Braves stadium financing, leaving .1 available for Park Bond 2008.
Note that the entire .33 millage belongs to the Debt Service Fund, which has always been earmarked for Park Bond payments.
If the full .33 were applied, it would only take 4 years to repay Park Bond 2008. If just the .1 were applied (after shifting the other .23 to the Braves), it would take about 13 years. The original Park Bond 2008 was planned for 15-year repayment terms. Either scenario (.1 millage or .33 millage) should be funded now.
- The Board could use the full .33 millage earmarked for 4 years:
.33 millage x 4 years = 9+ million x 4 years = $40 million
- The Board could use the remaining .1 millage for 13 years:
.1 millage x 13 years = 3+ million x 13 years = $40 million
#5. Georgia Supreme Court Precedent: Voter Referendums Must Be Funded
Voter Referendums are binding in democracies. While we recognize that the Cobb County Commission has broad discretion to exercise control over public property and to conduct county affairs, Commissions do not have the legal authority to divert funds or ignore a referendum passed by a majority of the Cobb county voters.
In a recent Georgia Supreme court case, the court found that SPLOST funds allocated for “recreational facilities and multi-purpose governmental facilities” were being diverted by Floyd County Commissioners to other projects. The court held that the “Board is not authorized to use proceeds from the SPLOST tax for a purpose entirely different from that contained in the SPLOST budget and account reports.” The court held that the Commission was bound by the projects listed unless they became “infeasible.” The Supreme Court stated that “infeasible” could not be used by the Commission as an excuse to divert the funds to what they considered to be a better project or away from a project they no longer supported. The Court held that even if the project was considered to be “infeasible” it would be an abuse of discretion for the Commission to abandon the project altogether.
This is an indication that the Georgia Supreme Court looks unfavorably toward Commissions who use “infeasible” as an excuse to divert funds to promote their own public interests or to not act on a referendum altogether. Therefore, the Commissioners have a fiduciary duty to the people of Cobb County to fund the $40 million mandated by a majority of the voters to buy land for future parks as stated in the 2008 Park Bond Referendum.
3 Ways to Help the Park Bonds