At last night’s , Bob Ott announced that he’d be proposing about 200 pages-worth of changes to the county code that impede redevelopment at next Tuesday’s Cobb County board of commissioners meeting. Ott emphasized that the changes he would be suggesting to the board apply only to redevelopment and not new development.
Ott said that at last year’s staff retreat he asked the community development agency to examine the county development code to identify all the measures that impede redevelopment. He explained that these measures were originally intended to protect undeveloped land and that when the code was being written officials hadn’t considered redevelopment. Over time he said it became more expensive for developers to redevelop an old site than it would be to construct a new one.
“So what happens is that’s really why you see a lot of green field development and we’re leaving this trail behind us of worn down, worn out shopping centers and places like that,” he said.
Ott hopes that removing some of the hurdles in the redevelopment code will help to revitalize some areas of Cobb County.
“We all know that if we can start turning these areas around it will start moving out from that center,” he said. “Because what happens is as those centers go down, the surrounding communities go down and you get crime coming in there and a whole lot of other things. So the idea is that we’re going to start in the middle and move out.”
Dana Johnson, planning division manager for the community development agency, added that the measures within the code that ensure environmental protections and mobility are still in place.
If the questions posed at the meeting are any indication property values seem to be seem to be the most pressing concern on Cobb taxpayers minds. Ott spent the majority of the evening explaining things like the county’s floating homestead exemption and how foreclosures negatively impact neighboring properties.
Ott explained that the reason many Cobb homeowners didn’t see a drop in their taxes last year despite a drop in their home’s value related to Cobb’s floating homestead exemption in addition the increase to the millage rate.
“So you start out with the value of your home,” he said. “And then the $10,000 is subtracted right away. Now what happened is—and this on the county portion of your taxes, not the fire tax, not the debt service, not the city tax—on the county portion of your taxes, the value of your home went up in the ‘90s. That value, that $10,000 was increased by the amount of the increase in value of your property. So in your county portion of your tax that did not change because you got this bigger homestead exemption. That’s the floating homestead exemption.”
As property values in Cobb decrease taxpayers have to wait till they again return to the $10,000 baseline before seeing a drop in the county portion of their property taxes. Taxpayers can see how close they are to the baseline on their annual bill.
One woman asked Ott what the commissioners were cutting from the county’s budget since declining property values shrank the tax base. Ott explained that banks are only allowed to have a certain percentage of “bad mortgages” in their portfolios before they have to start paying into federal reserves. As a result, banks will short-sell their bad mortgages just to remove them from their portfolios, even if they don’t get all their money back. The county has to take these short sales into account when assessing property values.
“There’s nothing we can do about that because we have no control over that,” Ott said. “Unfortunately what happened is the state legislators have tied our hands behind our backs. Now when we figure out your taxes, we have to factor in the sales that are not what we call “arms-length” sales, these short sales and these bank sales, in to taxes.
“So you can just imagine what this does because not only do you have this home that sells for a lower value, so that home is effected tax-wise, but all these other homes like it on the street now their value. Now we have a different universe that we have to use to compare the costs and now that value is down.”
Here Ott reiterated that he was in favor of cutting the budget, but that three of his fellow commissioners had chosen to raise the millage rate instead.
“You raise taxes once, it’s kind of like OK we’ve been to the well once, now we need to go back again,” he said.
Ott delivered good news to a Vinings Estates resident whose property values are impacted by her address. Vinings Estates homeowners live inside Smyrna city limits and pay city taxes, but have Mableton addresses, which they say has a negative impact on their property values. This is an issue that Ron Fennel, Ward 7 Smyrna city council member, brought up when he was campaigning for city council last fall.
“Basically we found a gentleman who said, ‘Yes. This is how you do it,’” he said. “You literally have to talk to every postal carrier for that area. So as soon as we figured out that that’s how that process worked, I passed it along to city council. The city continued to try, they could just never get past the bureaucracy of the post office. Well, now we’re pretty confident that you have. We’re going through that process. The county is working with the city. We’re talking to the same person who helped us in Vinings to try to get that remedied. I don’t know what the timeframe is going to be, but we’re pretty confident we’re talking to the person who’s going to make that happen.”
Economic development was also a hot-button issue at the town hall meeting. Ron Sifen, a , asked Ott about his opinion on , a study conducted by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce that had stakeholders from both the county and the business community that examined how to attract business to Cobb.
Ott agreed that the study itself was within the chamber’s purview, but didn’t think it should be the county’s responsibility to help pay for it.
“In Gwinnett where a similar plan was put in place, the school board and the commissioners put money in for that,” he said “At least three of your five commissioners have said, ‘No. We will not support public funding for that.’ I’m pretty sure the school board is not far behind us. That’s the one part we don’t agree with.”
When asked about the timeline for proposed SPLOST improvements to the Interstate 285/Atlanta Road interchange, Ott said that that project was postponed till 2014 after the county received an attractive offer from the state. The state asked the county to construct a modified diamond design instead of a cloverleaf at the interchange. In exchange, the state would cover construction costs. SPLOST dollars will stay pay for design costs and acquisition of right-of-way.