Cobb residents may have to wait a few weeks to learn which properties have been recommended to be purchased to become county green space.
After a work session Monday morning, county commissioners were presented the list of recommended properties compiled by the county’s recreation board in a meeting that was closed to the public, county spokesperson Sheri Kell told the MDJ.
The county held a public nomination process from late January through April 15, with 166 properties nominated for purchase by the county to increase green space. The recreation board was tasked with narrowing that list down and presenting its recommended properties to commissioners.
Though commissioners in January unanimously approved a plan to have the recreation board present its initial recommendations at today’s work session, Kell said the list will not be presented to the public today as the information remains privileged because it deals with real estate matters.
She said a timeline for releasing the list publicly had not been determined, but said Chairman Tim Lee was expected to address the issue at the commission’s 7 p.m. meeting tonight.
“We are going through the same process now that we have gone through in the past,” Lee said. “This discussion involves the purchase of real estate. As such, the county will go through the proper due diligence of property acquisition. I have asked staff to provide to the Board of Commissioners and the public (the) necessary steps and an anticipated timeline for the rest of this process.”
Lee said that additional information and a timeline was expected to be announced at tonight’s meeting.
The compiled list is meant to be used to guide the county’s purchase of parkland using a voter-approved bond issuance. In November 2008, two-thirds of Cobb voters approved a $40 million parks bond, but the bonds 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.
Because of the passage of time and the language of the 2008 referendum, the county’s finance director has said Cobb would no longer be able to collect the full $40 million for park land from the 2008 bond were it issued today.
Commissioners have yet to take action regarding the approved parks bonds, but Commissioner JoAnn Birrell has proposed increasing the property tax rate the county uses to pay down debts by 0.13 mills to fund $24.7 million in park bonds the county would legally be able to issue out of the approved 2008 bonds. She has said the 0.13-mill increase would equate to a $10.40 annual property tax increase on a $200,000 home.
Then, with Cobb residents already scheduled to head to the polls in March to vote on a renewal of the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax for Cobb County and Marietta City Schools, Birrell has 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.
PARK PROPONENTS REACT
Several Cobb residents who had been proponents of increased green space said the county’s choice to not release the list bucks the trend set in previous years.
“This is unprecedented for the list not to be announced as planned since January because it was done in 2006 and 2008, where they made the announcement of the actual list,” said Jennifer Burke of the Cobb Parks Coalition.
Carol Brown of the Canton Road Neighbors said she was unsure why this year’s process was different, adding that commissioners had set the expectation that the list was to be put out in the open at tonight’s meeting.
“I think that a transparent process, particularly one that follows the precedent set, is the right way to go,” Brown said.
Commissioner Bob Weatherford said the need to keep the list of recommended properties close to the vest was needed. He said commissioners and county leaders need to decide where new parks may be needed and will need to visit the sites before making a determination.
“We don’t want to let (the information) out or the property values might go up, so that’s why we discussed it in executive (closed) session,” Weatherford said.
Though county officials did not release official details on the properties on the recreation board’s list, Weatherford said the committed had pared down the list of nominated properties down to “less than 20,” with their sizes running the “whole gamut” of about 5 to 100 acres. While the recommended list includes properties across the whole county, Weatherford said “one might predict that south and west Cobb have the most land that’s available.”
He said that while some county residents may have been clamoring for commissioner action on the parks bond and using its funds to purchase properties on the list of recommendations, moving forward in the process takes some time.
“People that want things sooner than later need to understand that we have said what we’re going to do, that we now have the list so we now have something to work with, and we’re moving forward with it,” he said. “We’re not going to rush it, and if we started tomorrow, we couldn’t buy these properties for probably four to six months because of appraisals and due diligence, the sales process back and forth, etc.”
The Cobb Board of Commissioners meets at 7 p.m. today.
Marietta Daily Journal Article: Cobb County: Parks list will not be released at meeting toda