MARIETTA — Cobb’s fiscal 2017 budget will not include funding for the $40 million parks bond approved by voters in 2008, despite an audience that clamored for such an inclusion. But parks proponents were offered an olive branch by one commissioner who proposed measures that could see tens of millions of dollars earmarked for new county greenspace in the coming months.
Commissioners approved by a 4-1 vote, with Lisa Cupid in opposition, Chairman Tim Lee’s $858 million fiscal 2017 budget. Based on the current millage rate of 6.66 mills, Lee had proposed the budget as a “continuation budget” as it included no new initiatives from him as part of an effort to not bind other county leaders or his successor, presumptive Chairman-elect Mike Boyce.
Prior to the commissioners’ vote, Cupid said she could not support Lee’s budget as the county had the ability and responsibility to fund the parks bond and other needs, such as Sunday bus service.
“I think that we are sensitive to your needs, but we are lacking in some intestinal fortitude to make it happen. I think we made a decision which has put us in a hole in setting back our millage further than was ever committed,” Cupid said, referring to the commission’s July vote to reduce the millage past the budgeted millage of 6.82 to the rollback rate of 6.66.
The budget vote came after commissioners heard from nearly 20 community members who weighed in on the funding plan. Many of those who spoke were members of the Cobb Parks Coalition and others who supported their effort to see the county fund parks bond. Several dozen community members in the audience wore green to bring attention to the issue, with members of the Cobb Parks Coalition and supporters displaying signs with messages such as “Note Our Vote: Buy Parks” and “Trees Please.”
Two-thirds of Cobb voters approved then $40 million parks bond in November 2008, but the bonds approved by voters were never issued by then-county Chairman Sam Olens due to a tanking economy and a tax increase he said would come as a result of the bonds’ issuance.
Commissioners have yet to take action regarding the approved parks bond, but Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, prior to the budget vote, told those in attendance that she planned to propose a resolution next month to increase the county’s debt service millage by 0.13 mills to fund the $24.7 million in parks bonds the county would legally be able to issue out of the approved 2008 bonds.
Commissioners next month are also slated to receive from the county’s recreation board a list of properties that could become future county parks. The county held a public nomination process from late January through April 15, with 166 properties nominated for purchase by the county to increase greenspace. The recreation board is expected to narrow that list down and present its recommended properties to commissioners.
“The $24.7 million in bonds can be issued in December of ’16, and we can purchase properties beginning in January of ’17,” Birrell said.
Then, with Cobb residents already scheduled to head to the polls in March to vote on a renewal of the one-cent special purpose local option sales tax for Cobb County and Marietta City Schools, Birrell said she would propose putting on the same ballot a referendum for an additional $40 million parks bond. Her proposal would have to earn approval from her fellow commission members to be placed on the ballot.
“I know it’s not what everybody wanted as far as a full $40 million now, but if we can purchase park land at $24.7 million in 2017, and issue a new bond for $40 million, that will give us $64.7 million total in the next two years,” she said.
Birrell’s announcement earned applause from the audience, who earlier had booed as commissioners said they had planned to vote on Lee’s “continuation budget.”