Cobb Commissioners Raise Taxes

The 3-2 vote, with Ott and Birrell opposed, sets the property tax rate at 11.11 mills, a 16 percent increase.

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of raising taxes now to make up a possible $33 million deficit in the next fiscal year.

Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell voted against the proposal.

The vote came after a 2 1/2-hour public hearing on the issue. It was the last of three such hearings, during which residents were split on the issue.

The county will raise the rate from a total of 9.6 mills to 11.11 mills for the year that ends Sept. 30. Tax bills start going out Aug. 15.

That change would add an average of $105.36 to a resident's county tax bill for a home worth $190,000 to $210,000.

People on both sides said Cobb's quality of life is at stake. Here is a minute-by-minute account of the hearing and vote.

6:45 p.m. The room is packed with residents. At 6:30, 51 people had already signed up to speak at the hearing.

7:03 Chairman Tim Lee and the other commissioners have arrived. And we're off...

7:14 The county's finance director is giving a short presentation about what would happen with a millage increase. On a $140,000 to $160,000 house, the increase would be $82.67 more per year. On a $190,000 to $210,000 home, the increase would be $111.66 per year.

7:18 First of 60 speakers. Head of Senior Services of Cobb County. She's been disappointed with the cuts that have been to various senior services. Supports millage increase to keep senior services.

7:20 New speaker is in the real estate business. He's split on whether the commissioners should raise taxes. On one hand the real estate market is terrible. On the other hand, he wants Cobb County to remain a great place to live.

7:22 Member from the Mableton Improvement Coalition says that group supports increasing the millage rate.

7:30 Resident Ethel Gibson says, "Just a little bit more is getting to be too much. Think how this is going to hurt people. Children are moving back home because they have lost their jobs. Pets are having to go to the animal shelter. A hundred dollars may not be much to you. But it's a $100 more they can have."

7:39 Jerry Hobbs says he's lived in Cobb County for 49 years. But it may not be for much longer. I think you are taking the easy way out. Asking you to stretch the dollars. You vote for this and I will work hard to have you defeated in the next election.

7:41 Speaker says these are difficult times. It's not the time to further burden people.

7:48 Resident Alfred Boatright says a tax increase will be a burden on future generations. It would be a heavy burden for people who want to come build here, live here.

7:54 New speaker says the Citizens Oversight Committee made some really good suggestions to cut fat. Don't raise taxes until you take a serious look at those.

7:59 Two speakers are in favor of raising taxes if it means keeping the libraries and art programs open to residents.

8:03 Speaker Ron Sifen says that the county has gone from projecting a $15 million, to $20 million to $33 million deficit in the general fund, and now $38 million. Something is wrong, he says. The general fund deficit numbers are all over the place. How do those numbers keep changing every two weeks?

8:24 Disabled speaker and her sister. They are in favor of the increase so they can keep Special Olympics.

8:26 Alicia Thomas Morgan, state rep and homeowner in Cobb County. She wants to see them raise the millage rate. Haven't seen such a support for raising taxes. Young people have come together, and churches etc. Sometimes you have to make unpopular, hard decisions.

8:31 New speaker says it is not the job of government to entertain residents, or provide sports. Non-profits and YMCAs can take those roles.

8:39 New speaker says all she keeps hearing is "I want. I want" It's not the job of government to be the parent. We are in the worst recession in a long time. People can do things for themselves. If you need new ballfields, go to Lowes. Get a group of parents together.

8:47 New speaker, Bill Wallace, directs his comments specifically to Chairman Lee. "You have failed miserably at your job. We Republicans will not forget that you raised our taxes. Shame on you. We didn't support you for you to raise our taxes. You intentionally misled me and others."  The crowd begans to boo him.

8:50 p.m. the 44th speaker is up

8:55 Recent Pebblebrook High graduate says she and her friends have gotten 1,900 signatures to raise the millage rate to keep their recreation center open.

9:19 New speaker asks what have the commissioners chosen to give up? Your salaries are part of the budget. Residents are being asked to give up services etc. Some of you need to take a hard look at yourselves, he said.

9:40 Last speaker. David Holmes asks the commissioners not to raise the burden on taxpayers.

9:45 Public hearing is closed and a five-minute break is taken.

9:55 Regular public comment period. One speaker who talks about the Cumberland Improvement District. He says that group should not have gotten involved with supporting the SPLOST that was approved earlier this year.

10:00 The consent agenda passes unanimously.

10:02 Several transportation items are approved.

10:03 Chairman Lee said the county has to act on the millage rate before the end of the month Sunday.

Lee says the county has made significant cuts since 2007. Since 2008 county employees have had a salary freeze. Lee says his priority is public safety and a quality of life in the county.

This would be the first time the county has had to go into reserves for the deficit the county knows it will have. They've cut fees and hours. They've eliminated unfilled positions. Will continue to look for cuts.

"We have to finally solve the issue of the budget instead of kicking it down the road," Lee said.

10:07 Lee makes the motion to raise the millage rate 11.11 mills, instead of the 11.21 he had proposed originally. Goreham seconds the motion.

Goreham said the commissioners have taken a 10 percent cut. She responds to several specific comments made by people during the public hearing.

"What makes this so hard is we are all a part of economy the likes of which we've never seen before," Goreham said.

County should not padlock its parks or lose any more fine employees, she said. Raising the millage rate "is the right thing to do."

Commissioner Birrell speaking now.

Raising the millage rate is not something I take lightly. She's lost a lot of sleep. Looked at a lot of reports. We don't have waste in county government. We do have some inefficiencies.

Additional cuts and furloughs to public safety is no longer an option. And amentities do contribute to our way of life.

Birrell says she's heard from constituents 2-1 in favor of not raising taxes. She's willing to go $500,000 for the fire fund, but not the general and debt funds.

Commissioner Bob Ott said up until now we have attempted to Bandaid something that needs medical treatment. The oversight committee has made numerous suggestions, but not a final report. Passing a millage increase at this juncture might be jumping the gun.

Ott said an increase will touch all residents, not just those who are financially sound. He's not in favor of raising the millage rate.

Commissioner Woody Thompson speaking. His constituents told him they want to raise the millage rate if the county needs the money.

The furlough days have started taking a toll on fire and police officers.

He supports the millage increase. That's a three to two vote in favor of raising the millage rate. No vote yet, but that's where it is going.

Lee speaking about other commissioners.

To sit up here and say that that there may be ways to come up with millions is just a knee jerk reaction so they don't have to make tough decisions.

One plan Lee said he got at 5:30 p.m. today (Seemingly he is talking about Ott)

To say we haven't looked everywhere for savings is just wrong.

Motion carries 3-2 with Ott and Birrell voting against raising the millage rate increase.





C.J. July 27, 2011 at 10:03 PM
USA Today: "The total tax burden — for all federal, state and local taxes — dropped to 23.6% of income in the first quarter, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. By contrast, individuals spent roughly 27% of income on taxes in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s — a rate that would mean $500 billion of extra taxes annually today, one-third of the estimated $1.5 trillion federal deficit this year." http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/2011-05-05-tax-cut-record-low_n.htm
Crystal Miron July 27, 2011 at 11:25 PM
Nice point Chris. Historical data does indicate that across the board we are paying less in taxes, particularly those in what can only be deemed ultra-wealthy, who make out like bandits under special tax law for capital gains and have the ability to use offshore tax cheats. Of course few people on one side of the aisle would dare consider to demand sacrifices from those poor, patriotic, "job creators". (Where are those jobs again?) Interestingly, the area I lived in before I relocated to Cobb County had a 6.5% sales tax in place for the past few DECADES, nearly my entire adult life....6.5% was the normal tax rate without any added referendums. And guess what? The roads were well maintained, the schools system had high graduation rates and many high achieving students, and the wait at the DMV was reasonable, among other things. I very much believe that you get what you pay for. We could certainly have a 3% sales tax rate, and then Cobb County would be as illustrious and inviting as rural Alabama. If you want the kind of tax rates that invite toxic waste dumps and chicken farms, then I guess that is your perogative. Personally, I like living someplace with aspirations for improvement and a decent standard of living.
Rio July 28, 2011 at 01:24 AM
I feel the tax increase was necessary. With property values plummeting it had to be done. As many stated above, with the significant drop in property values, they may still pay less this year than previously. We certainly don't want to cut back on valuable services such as Police & Fire. We all know there is waste in government. But I do feel Cobb County has done a pretty good job with our tax dollars. Of course none of us will agree with everything, but I think if we can step back and look at the big picture, we will see more good than bad in our Leaders and their decisions.
an80sreaganite July 28, 2011 at 03:24 PM
As per usual, government continues, even at the local level, to grow, grow, grow. When was the last time you ever heard a politician say, "What we need to do is spend less." Never, unless they are in campaign mode and sucking up to the Tea Party people. When faced with lower revenues (due to pay cuts, lay-offs, etc...) cut our spending first. Then we look around and say, "What can we sell?" In government when they are faced with lower revenues they say, "How can we get more tax revenue?" Is it possible for government to ever get smaller? I'm beginning to doubt it. As a nation we are headed for disaster and destined for mediocrity.
C.J. July 28, 2011 at 07:32 PM
To reduce deficits, Reagan raised taxes several times: "...the tax increases Reagan approved ended up canceling out much of the reduction in tax revenue that resulted from his 1981 legislation...Annual federal tax receipts during his presidency averaged 18.2% of GDP, a smidge below the average under President Carter -- and a smidge above the 40-year average today." http://money.cnn.com/2010/09/08/news/economy/reagan_years_taxes/index.htm


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