Mayor Bacon: 'We’ve got a great city'
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon remains upbeat about the Jonquil City's future during his State of the City address Thursday.
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon delivered his annual State of the City address Thursday and as expected the economy dominated the speech.
“I don’t want to bang on my chest too much,” Bacon said. “We’ve got a lot of room to improve, but we’ve got a great city and a great staff. And I think we’re one of the better cities around. And the numbers are there.”
The 2010 U.S. Census numbers show that Smyrna grew from 40,999 in 2000 to 51,271 in 2010, a 25 percent increase.
Bacon, who said he’s been criticized in the past for being too negative during his State of the City addresses, enumerated some of the points that make Smyrna “one of the better cities.”
Bacon highlighted the city’s 2012 fiscal year budget, which was balanced without lay-offs, furloughs, millage rate increases, without the utilization of reserves and without closing facilities.
It is balanced at $4 million higher than last year at $70.9 million. The mayor explained the increase due in part to the $15 million bond issued by the Smyrna Downtown Redevelopment Authority to purchase the Hickory Lake Apartments, some grants and “we’re building a new fire station.’’
On the whole, Smyrna’s millage rates have decreased over the past 20 years from 12.10 in 1991 to 8.99 in 2011, Bacon said.
He also noted that home values in Smyrna have increased 72 percent since 2000. The median house value in Smyrna is now $223,100 according to a 2005-2009 American Community Survey.
Bacon pointed out that Smyrna’s bond rating increased this year to AA+, the second-highest bond rating, due in part to the purchase of Hickory Lake apartments.
“When we purchased Hickory Lake apartments actually our bond rating improved by Moody and Standard and Poor,” he said. “That’s something that’s totally unheard of.”
Despite these advances, Smyrna has not been immune to the nation’s economic crisis.
“In my 31 years being in office I’ve seen it (the economy) go up and down, up and down,” Bacon said. “But I’ve never seen it just stop—stop to the point that hardly anything’s being developed.”
The city has felt the pinch. Residential property taxes are expected to deliver Smyrna $720,000 less than last year, a drop of almost four-and-a-half percent from last year’s digest.
Franchise taxes have increased by $250,000 over FY2011 and are budgeted at $3.35 million. Business licenses inched upward by $190,000, and there was an increase of $611,860 for new fees and existing fees.
Bacon spoke candidly about some of Smyrna’s stalled developments.
“Belmont Hills in the last couple years has not had much activity,” he said. “Why? It’s the economy.”
Bacon, who has said Smyrna will weather the storm by “thinking smarter,” used the Belmont Hills development at the corner of Atlanta Road and Windy Hill Road, as an illustration of thinking outside the box in a tough economy.
“Jack (Halpern, Belmont Hills developer) has taken a rich piece of retail property and the school bought it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great start up there with the school.”
In February, Cobb County schools approved deals to purchase three parcels of land that the Cobb County School District plans to utilize for a new elementary school set to open in 2013. The site includes slightly less than 18 acres next to Campbell High School along Fleming Road between Ward Street and Atlanta Road: 9.027 acres purchased from Halpern Enterprises; 1.5 acres previously owned by private citizens; and 7.45 acres bought from the City of Smyrna.
The mayor also expressed optimism about the Jonquil Plaza development at the corner of Atlanta and Spring Roads. The project went into foreclosure in late 2010 and continues to be shopped around with the hope that a large grocery store will still anchor the project
"They’ve had two folks (recently) that have had it under contract and we don’t really know exactly what happened, but somebody’s going to get that site pretty soon,'' Bacon said. "Publix is still very much interested in it. They’re trying to get the details and work things out.”
A state-of-the-art Kroger store anchors The Crossings at Four Corners, the massive redevelopment project located at the corner of South Cobb Drive and Concord Road that is bustling with construction activity. A bit north on South Cobb, Adventure Outdoors is building a $5 million, 70,000-square-foot sporting goods store set to open this fall, while GLOCK, Inc., headquartered in the southern end of the city, is expanding with intents to add about 100 jobs.
Regarding the 48-plus acre Hickory Lake property, Bacon noted that not everyone in Smyrna approved of the city purchasing the property and called it “a political issue because it’s an election year.” However, he defended the decision.
“We had one shot to take control of that 50 acres,” he said. “We did a favor not only for everybody, but for the folks who live in Hickory Lake, to help them get out of there.”
The city is in the process of demolishing the apartments and is marketing the property, but there have been some hiccups along the way. Last month, the city had to recast the bid for asbestos removal because the original survey miscalculated the surface area for removal. Bacon explained earlier this week that the new bid should be awarded by September with demolition beginning the following month.
Bacon and other city officials are still trying to determine what impact the Windy Hill Road/Macland Road Connector will have on Hickory Lake and the rest of Smyrna. The connector is slated to open next month and overall, Bacon said he thinks it will positively impact the sale of Hickory Lake.
“We’re a little concerned about that whether or not the roads are ready, but it’s coming anyway,” he said. “A lot of folks look at the number of cars on the highway to put a business there, so we’re hoping that will help us some.”