- The Park Bond funding issue didn’t start with the Braves. For years, Cobb citizens were told the $40 million Park Bond referendum voters approved in 2008 could not be funded due to the economy.
- Over the last 5 years, the 2008 Park Bond properties chosen for purchase by the county as ideal parkland were either under major threat of development or actually lost to developers’ bulldozers.
- In 2014, citizens noticed the exact Park Bond 2008 funds were being reallocated to another project, specifically the $400 million Braves stadium project, before saving any properties as parkland as intended with the 2008 Park Bond referendum.
- On the Cobb County Braves FAQ page, it clearly states the Braves stadium financing is using the property tax rates of the issued Park Bonds from 1996, 2007 and 2008. As we know, Park Bond 2008 has not been issued. According to Cobb’s own documents, the Debt Service property tax rates that fund the Park Bonds are planned to “be shifted”, and “those monies will then be used to pay for bonds to finance SunTrust Park construction.”
- The Board can easily fix this twice-promised money situation. The $40 million Park Bond 2008 can be repaid in under 5 years with the current Debt Service rates, before funding the Braves stadium or any other bond. The Debt Service Fund has always been earmarked for Park Bond and similar bond repayment.
The 2008 Park Bond funding is now at a critical juncture for 3 reasons.
- First: Referendums are the highest form of democracy. Park Bond 2008 is a voter-approved referendum overwhelmingly passed with 67% of the electorate (more than 190,000 Cobb citizens voted for it). The Board of Commissioners is obligated to fund the $40 million Park Bond Referendum, especially as funding is clearly available. We know funding is available because the Debt Service Fund property taxes slated for Park Bond repayment are being transferred into a $400 million project for 30 years. This is why the Cobb Parks Coalition supporters have been speaking at every Board of Commissioners since November 2015, requesting the Board fully fund the Park Bond.
- Second: Park Bond 2008 is so important now is many of the 29 properties selected by the Cobb County Citizen Advisory Committee in 2009 have already been developed or are under threat of development. Those committee members from each district in Cobb volunteered to diligently pinpoint, visit, and select the best properties for parkland. Unfortunately the Park Bond wasn't funded at all, so many communities lost their selected property to developers.
One would think Cobb Planning would exclude the Park Bond properties from rezoning consideration until the Park Bond has been funded. But that hasn’t happened. From a search on Google maps it appears at least half the 29 Park Bond properties have already been developed.
- Third: Cost to taxpayers: Citizens get less parkland for their money as cost of land in Cobb increases. The same $40 million Park Bond in 2008 will net fewer acres of parkland today. The sooner the land is purchased, the better the savings will be for all of us. How much does the Park Bond cost a an average property owner? About $26/year per average on a $200,000 home, which is a great return on investment to have greenspace.
Cobb's own greenspace initiative:
- Cobb County has 220,824 total acres, so 10% of county land saved as greenspace would be 22,082 acres.
- According to the 2030 Plan adopted in 2006, Cobb had 13,756 acres of greenspace, and that's below the national standard & below Cobb's goal.
- According to the Parks Department 2016 document, Cobb has 16,452 acres of greenspace (using a different set of criteria than the 2030 Plan), which is low on the national standard & below Cobb's goal.
- Cobb's stated goal in the 2030 Plan is to save at least 10.5% of county land as greenspace, so if Cobb has 16,452 acres of greenspace (according to the 23 January 2016 BoC meeting), then Cobb would need to purchase more than 5,000 acres to achieve their greenspace goal. If the 2030 Plan numbers were used, Cobb would need to purchase more than 8,000 acres to achieve their greenspace goal. Either way, many acres in Cobb need to be preserved.
- According to the Georgia Greenspace Program approved in 2000, Georgia's goal is for each county to save 20% of its land as greenspace, which is more than 44,000 acres in Cobb, so Cobb would need to purchase about 27,000 more acres.
- To give some perspective, Park Bond 2008 would save about 350 acres, & Park Bond 2006 saved almost 400 acres.
- Voters approved Park Bond 2008 by referendum in a landslide 67% victory in 2008, and a selection committee chose 29 properties for purchase.
Saving what is left:
Several of the remaining beautiful properties from the Park Bond list are under serious threat of development:
- In Commissioner Birrell’s District 3, the 47-acre Bells Ferry property
- in Commissioner Cupid’s District 4, the 23-acre Furr property
- In Commissioner Ott’s District 2, the 54-acre Tritt property
- In Commissioner Weatherford’s District 1, properties around Lake Allatoona to protect Cobb's water source.
Saving parkland will be a positive legacy for the Commissioners, and it appears the Board members can agree on this issue.
The Board should take swift action to honor the county’s word it would endeavor to save those properties and other properties as parks. The landowners, neighbors and surrounding communities have been patiently waiting for 7 years.
- Water: By creating more community parks, trails & greenspace, environmental resources are saved directly, such as the water table. Also, with less flooding from runoff due to less impervious surface, the Stormwater Department has easier tasks.
- Roads: By creating more community parks, trails & greenspace, people drive less to get to recreation areas, and so there is less traffic and the roads are impacted less.
- Improved Education & Health: Children are more active with places to play and run. Schools near parks are linked with better academic performance. Outdoor play improves brain capacity.
- Public Safety: By creating more community parks, trails & greenspace, neighborhoods are more connected locally around parks, thus leading to safer areas, with less calls for direct public safety action.
- More $: Counties that protect their natural resources are the places people enjoy and want to visit. With greenspace, parks, trails & other recreational areas, there is a direct benefit to tourism, SPLOST dollars, and of course home values, all of which add dollars to the county digest.