Tax deal hearing yields no decision
by Nikki Wiley
December 30, 2013 11:36 PM | 2630 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — A Monday hearing in Cobb Superior Court didn’t produce any resolutions in the debate between the county’s school district and development authority over proposed tax breaks for an affluent developer.

The 20-minute hearing gave another opportunity for critics to voice opposition to the proposed 10-year tax abatement offered for the $103 million Riverwalk development by the Development Authority of Cobb County.

This time, just one resident came forward to speak against the tax subsidy that critics say takes away needed revenue from Cobb’s schools.

But no arguments were heard from Cobb School District or Development Authority attorneys. The hearing was for the validation of Development Authority bonds, which would allow property tax waivers for the project backed by mega-developer John Williams to move forward.

If no resolution is reached before the next hearing, the court will consider arguments from the school district and the Development Authority, said Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Michael Stoddard.

The next hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 10 in Courtroom 2000.

“On Jan. 10th, the matter will be resolved one way or another, but that remains to be seen,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard also said this case is the first in 45 years that has seen objection to a bond validation.

The project didn’t meet the county’s requirements of creating 25 jobs and contributing $500,000 to the tax digest. It was rejected by a county committee, which included Cobb Chairman Tim Lee and County Manager David Hankerson, to have fees for permits and licenses waived.

But the Development Authority, chaired by Vinings Bank executive Clark Hungerford, is moving ahead anyway with the tax incentive.

Development Authority members are appointed by county commissioners, but they don’t answer directly to voters and have the ability to act on their own outside of Cobb’s guidelines.

Resident says Authority is playing with Cobb’s future

Carol Jacobsen, a 22-year resident of Cobb, accused the Development Authority of “gambling with our future.”

Opponents to the tax deal say it leaves the county’s schools, which are already facing an $80 million deficit, struggling to make up for lost cash.

The two parcels that make up the 7 acres of undeveloped land near the future home of the Atlanta Braves are currently valued at about $6.1 million for tax purposes, according to the Cobb Tax Commissioner’s website. That raw land generated $46,433 for the Cobb School District in 2013 and $26,803 for the county.

If developed into a $100 million project, the site would pump more than 15 times that amount annually into county coffers, with $436,400 generated for the county and another $756,000 for Cobb schools, according to estimates provided by the county finance office.

But developers won’t be paying those taxes, if approved, and that could add up to more than $8 million in lost revenue for the schools and county government over the term of the 10-year abatement.

Jacobsen said Cobb’s public schools were a priority when she moved to Georgia 22 years ago. Her child graduated from Walton High School, and she has another three grandchildren in the public school system.

“It is the reason relatively speaking that our homes have retained value and our children have been well-educated,” Jacobsen said at Monday’s hearing.

But she alleges the Development Authority doesn’t have the best interest of the taxpayer or Cobb’s school children in mind.

“If you give tax abatement to what little development is coming, where is the money for the schools going to come from?” Jacobsen said.

The Great Recession has left the school system in a bind, she said, and “even textbooks for math are not being purchased because the school board bemoans the added expense.”

Cobb’s schools should be a priority, Jacobsen said.

“What does our responsible Development Authority do? They give a 10-year tax abatement to a wealthy developer because as one member put it, he has been good to Cobb.” Jacobsen said. “Really? I think Cobb has been good to him.”

In addition to Hungerford, Development Authority members include Bob Morgan, a CPA with Marietta-based Cerqueda, Morgan & Collins; Realtor Donna Rowe; Richard Moore, managing director of external affairs for AGL Resources; retirement planner Al Searcy, husband of former Cobb school board member Laura Searcy; Karen Hallacy, who is challenging state Rep. Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb) in next year’s primary; and Blake Kenya, owner of a landscaping business.

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