Published January 20, 2016
MARIETTA — Chairman Tim Lee intends to ask the Board of Commissioners to task the Cobb County Recreation Board with leading a “renewed green space acquisition effort” at Tuesday’s regular meeting, according to a statement released Wednesday.
Lee’s announcement coincides with a renewed push by greenspace advocates for the county to act on a 2008 referendum that authorized the issuance of $40 million in parks bonds.
Roberta Cook, head of the Cobb Parks Coalition, expressed cautious optimism about Lee’s plan.
“When we talked to them last year there wasn’t really any interest at all, and so I’m very encouraged by them talking about it, and I look forward to seeing the movement moving forward,” she said.
Lee wrote that he would ask the recreation board to review and update the list of properties compiled by a volunteer citizen committee in 2009 as potential new park space. He also said he would ask the board to look for available land in flood plains.
Lee reiterated his position that the bonds should not be issued if it requires a tax increase.
“Unfortunately, the impact of the recession on Cobb County was such that it was impossible to issue the park bonds (before) without a subsequent hike in the millage rate,” he wrote.
Cook said she “appreciate(s) that they’re conscientious about (raising taxes),” but suggested that the referendum authorized the county to “do whatever they need to support” the bond issuance.
The chairman also responded to critics who tied the parks bond issue to that of SunTrust Park, the new stadium being built in Cobb for the Atlanta Braves.
“Our decision to move forward with the SunTrust Park partnership was never a choice between the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County parks,” he wrote. “The only objective was to make sure that we maximized all available resources to ensure a smart investment that would result in the best outcome for Cobb County now, and far into the future.”
Lee wrote that the county was reaping the economic benefits of SunTrust Park, which he said allowed it to reinvest in public safety and greenspace.
Some greenspace advocates have taken issue with the county’s strategy to fund SunTrust Park.
The county plans to use a variety of revenue sources to repay the bonds being used for SunTrust Park, including general fund revenue. To generate enough general fund revenue to pay for the stadium, the county plans to reduce the millage going to the debt service fund, which pays for previously issued parks bonds and would also cover any future debt service on bonds, by .234 mills, while increasing the general fund millage rate by the same amount. This would leave .1 mills to cover the cost of a new parks bond issuance.
Last month, Finance Director Jim Pehrson estimated that the county could collect $19.5 million from the .1 mills based on the current value of property in the county.
Due to the language of the referendum and the time elapsed since its passage, the maximum amount the county could collect today would be closer to $29 million even if the county were able to collect more.
The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Tim Lee to move on parks bonds at next Board of Commissioners meeting