On the other side are commercial property owners still suffering from the recession, seeking the use of tax dollars to improve their depressed situation. They are supported by Marietta school officials desperate to find ways to increase test scores and graduation rates, and county officials who desperately want a bus rapid transit system along the I-75 corridor. This side is willing to sacrifice the affordable private housing.
What: City officials are going to use bond money to pay a premium price for this affordable housing. The city has agreed to pay $7.9 million for the Woodlands Apartments to an individual who purchased it from Fannie Mae for $3 million in April of 2012. That is a really good flip. City documents reveal this complex is currently 88 percent occupied, pays $11,725 a year in city taxes, $55,516 a year in school taxes and has an annual utility bill of $803,409. This loss of $870,650 will have to be made up by utility customers and taxpayers because the city, the school system and the utility cannot afford to lose any more revenues.
It will cost $1.5 million to demolish Woodridge and $57,900 to relocate the occupants. The value of the cleared land will range between $2.5 million and $3.7 million. The city thinks it will own the property for five years, by which time total costs to the tax payer will exceed $14 million. If the city sells the property for $3 million, this cost will drop to $11 million, but you have to add back a portion of the bonding fees and interest. A private developer might hang on to the property for a long time, waiting for more favorable market conditions. In this case the school system and city will continue to lose revenues until development occurs.
A similar analysis for the other complexes over the same time frame results in a serious financial loss for the city and the school system. According to the city, the current tax value of the 13 Franklin Road apartments is approximately $85 million. Current and future generations of taxpayers and utility rate payers will have to make up this loss.
What happens after the destruction of this affordable housing? No one knows or is willing to say. There is no urban redevelopment plan and no clear vision is expressed in a drawing, fact sheet, or anything a city official has said other than “Trust me.” No Urban Redevelopment Authority has been established to provide citizen oversight, and the risk for misuse of $68 million is high with a loosey-goosey government like Marietta.
When: This is the wrong time for massive deficit spending by Marietta. More millage rate increases are just around the corner. School enrollment is up necessitating another grammar school. Eventually city employees will have to be adequately compensated and more teachers hired. The city-operated utility is raising rates at a steady and continuous pace.
The tax digest has dropped like a rock. The school system reports a 1 percent drop in the tax digest costs them approximately $500,000 in revenues. The city tax digest declined by 18 percent since 2009. The three primary reasons are adjusted property values, the city’s aggressive private property purchasing program and failed Tax Allocation Districts. Now is a bad time to reduce school revenues. Austerity reductions between FY08 and FY13 were $32 million with an additional $5 million projected for FY14.
Where: We are talking about a huge bond issue for a city the size of Marietta. All this money will be spent within half of one square mile of the city’s 22-square mile service area.
This bond was hasty and ill-conceived, the timing is absolutely awful and the problem is the city’s own making. If the Franklin Road apartments are truly a “slum,” it is the fault of city officials. They have failed to enforce health and building codes, but it is not too late to begin code enforcement and save $100 million tax dollars. The only thing to do is vote down this waste of money.
Larry Wills is a retired environmental designer and a lifelong resident of Marietta.