When I read that the Commissioners were getting emails asking how they could commit funds to this stadium while teachers are being laid off, I realized that many people still don’t understand a significant distinction. It’s wonderful to see so many people in support of our teachers and students and I strongly urge you to join those of us who advocate for this issue, at the School Board meetings.
However, the Cobb County Commission has no influence or oversight; legally, politically or constitutionally over public school funding in Cobb. Please go to the Cobb Tax Commissioner’s website and look up your personal property tax information.
Just as it is listed on your tax bill, there are separate line items for the separate property tax collections.
The Cobb County School District levies an 18.9 mill tax which goes for our schools. It’s entirely separate from the other property tax line items such as the County General fund (managed by the Commissioners). The CCSD is even listed as a separate “taxing authority” on your bill. Only the Cobb County School Board and its Superintendent make the budgetary decisions for the school system.
Let’s analyze this deal from the perspective of our schools. I’ve based my opinions here on the publicly released information of the current deal and analysis by Tricia Knor, one of the foremost education finance researchers in Cobb.
The entire stadium-complex property is 60 acres, 15 of which will be used for the new stadium, and an adjacent 45 acre mixed-use site to be developed by a separate entity.
The mixed-use development will be paying school taxes of 18.9 mills in addition to their county property taxes. It is estimated that the site will bring in projected school property tax of $3 million per year, based on a $400 million development. That could result in many teachers being retained or hired every year. In addition, for all relevant purchases made on either property, the school district will also receive 1 percent in Education SPLOST sales tax revenue, which will be used for capital expenditures.
A huge additional benefit is that, for all the tax money received, the school system is in the prime position of not having any (or a negligible amount of) additional students to support. The mixed-use development is planning to have only condos as its residential component. This is also why it’s absolutely vital we support our Cobb-based businesses, as laid out in Commissioner JoAnn Birrell’s “Keep It In Cobb” initiative.
If this project is not approved, that prime piece of property could be used for a purpose which doesn’t generate income for our schools. It’s currently zoned for senior residential units. Seniors pay no school property taxes at all.
Ideally, I would like to see the 15-acre stadium site itself make some type of contribution to the school system’s general fund, such as just 5 mills of school tax, to help offset the punitive “Equalization Grant” thrust on us by the state legislators. But I don’t know if that can be done under current law.
Perhaps the Commissioners should urge the Braves organization to make a substantial tax-deductible donation to the PTAs and Foundations of the individual schools in the stadium area, which will be the recipients of additional traffic. Or they should request a donation to the nonprofit Cobb Schools Foundation, which benefits all the schools in the Cobb system.
As is the norm, the most vocal individuals are those opposed to this deal. I urge you to express your support by emailing your County Commissioners and by attending, and speaking at, the Commission meeting on Tuesday.
Our classrooms are overcrowded, many of our buildings are in serious disrepair and there is no end in sight for the school budget deficits. I welcome anything that can help relieve this situation without asking any investment of the school system. Too bad it can’t come sooner than 2017.
JoEllen Smith is on the boards and steering committees of multiple county-wide, state-wide and national education advocacy groups. She is also on the county task force of a fiscally conservative political advocacy group. Her opinions in this column are solely her own and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of any of these organizations.