Franklin Road redevelopment bonds would be just a $100M slush fund
by Larry Wills
Columnist
August 21, 2013 11:47 PM | 2005 views | 4 4 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On July 11 the City Council nearly doubled the proposed urban redevelopment bond from $35 million to $68 million. Unbelievably, the increase grew out of a mathematical error made by city staff. This is a serious weakness for an organization that calculates tax and utility bills, designs and maintains roads and bridges, and redistricts neighborhoods. If true, the finance director and city manager should be fired.

Mayor Tumlin’s response was, “I never dreamed that 2 mills would bring $68 million.”

Besides incompetence, their problem with math raises another important issue. If $35 million was enough to accomplish the bond goals initially, why increase the bond amount? Tumlin’s answer was that “I don’t like to leave money on the table.” Apparently he wants to spend as many tax dollars as he can get his hands on. The $33 million “fortuitous excess” goes to the Franklin Road Corridor with Whitlock slum improvements remaining at $4 million.

Before the vote, Tumlin pushed to include $3.4 million railroad crossing quiet zones into the “existing list of bond projects.” This request again showed that the $68 million amount has no direct correlation to a specific community need on Franklin. A pot of undesignated public funds is called a slush fund and that is what this bond offering is all about.

The quiet zone idea was dropped because, unlike Whitlock Avenue, none of the city’s railroad crossings are in slum areas, but the really goofy thing about Tumlin’s request is that there is no “existing list of bond projects.” He previously told the MDJ that, “There is no (bond) check list, besides what is in his (Tumlin’s) head, on each step to take when instituting a government obligation bond, especially one that does not yet include specific construction plans for each project.”

The citizens of Marietta have no idea how this tax increase will be spent. Apparently, the mayor and council do not know either, yet the Marietta Daily Journal and many of our local realtors appear to support this huge investment — in what?

All we know about how these funds will be spent come from contradictory and vague comments made by city staff and elected officials. They say the goal of this bond is to remove 1,000 poverty level students from the Marietta School system; beautify and connect sidewalks along Whitlock; build two possible road projects (location and cost to be determined after the bond is approved); and convey (give?) complexes (where?) to an entity (who?) for redevelopment. To accomplish these goals, they will demolish businesses (where?); acquire and raze decrepit garden apartments (where?), upgrade apartments (where?); and make infrastructure improvements (where?).

Including interest, a total cost of over $100 million for what, when and where?

The $4 million for Whitlock is confounding. According to the city staff, no utilities will be relocated. To complete the missing 1.3 mile of sidewalks should cost substantially less than $300,000. So what is the remaining $3.7 million going to be spent on? If “streetscape” means a repeat of Roswell Street, then this is nowhere near enough money. The 2.3 mile stretch of Roswell from the Big Chicken to near the Square is 20 years-plus in the making, and its cost to date exceeds $15 million a mile.

The most costly aspect of the Roswell project was the purchase of excess property using BLW funds. Does the city intend to buy entire residential parcels to try and flip more of Whitlock’s frontage into retail and O&I zoning?

The use of the $64 million on Franklin is even more confounding. There is no plan, there are no handouts, there was no public hearing where citizens could ask questions. The only thing we have is Tumlin’s word that the city will not screw this up like the Tax Allocation Districts. There is not even agreement on the Franklin project area. Is it the Franklin Corridor or all the land located between Cobb Parkway and I-75?

This bond smells like another city bailout for financially troubled landlords and a play to increase the value of several parcels of undeveloped land.

The ballot is going to ask if you want to fund improvements on Franklin Road.

What it should ask is “Do you want to fund a $100 million slush fund for the city of Marietta”?

Larry Wills is a retired recycling consultant in Marietta.
Comments
(4)
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James Bell
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August 26, 2013
Thieves never like to leave money on the table.
Tony Cain
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August 26, 2013
Larry is right, as usual and backs up everything he says with FACTS.

Disgusted Taxpayer
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August 22, 2013
Larry Wills is correct about the slush fund. I also questioned the competency of City Finance department, City Manager Nd Tumlin when "suddenly" extra funds discovered for the Franklin Road payoff to builder and slum landlords! We taxpayers already pay water excise taxes to pad city funds, taxpayer money for Franklin Rd to clean-up what should have been monitored all along. There are no plans...only developers and cronies benefitting from a dishonest city administration and specifically, the director of finance! It seems when certain officials do not like what you say, they defame your character. This is the Bible Belt with these actions?

Great article Larry. Larry is aware of the reality of Marietta city government which majority can say is a clone of what we have in Washington DC. Are the citizens of Marietta having fun yet? Stand up and speak up! Vote "no" for Tumlin in the mayoral race. He is no better than any other politician.
Robin M
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August 24, 2013
With this clarity of the bond I am in total opposition. Borrowing money and have taxes increased to pay back a debt for What !!!??? There isn't a solid plan for its use and it creates some crucial problems to the public eg . no teaching jobs if school enrollment declines, this isn't need it is blatant greed.
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