“I am $20 million in the hole for 2012 because of projected revenue declines. I’m here to tell you that means one of two things: Either we figure out a new revenue source to help offset that, or we cut departments and people from this organization,” Lee said. “There is no more cutting to be done.”
Last September, county commissioners approved a $328.3 million budget for fiscal 2011. But in April, commissioners had to make an additional $31 million worth of cuts, which they accomplished in part by furloughing all county employees, closing some senior centers, scaling back library hours and using nearly $5 million from reserve funds.
In response to a question after his speech about raising taxes, Lee said, “Looking at a millage increase is something we’re going to have to consider for 2012.” County commissioners must approve the budget for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, in September.
But Lee also insisted he wants to hear from citizens about whether they would be willing to pay more in taxes.
“The decision has got to be made by the folks in Cobb County as to what they want Cobb to be,” Lee said. “In my mind, I think most of us want Cobb County to be what it was in 2007, which is respected for being the best in every avenue we do. … If we want Cobb to continue to be great, with services and enjoyment from quality of life, we have to decide whether or not we want to invest in that future.”
Jamie Vann, a member of the club who lives in west Cobb and is a personal friend of Lee’s, said he doesn’t want taxes raised, but “it doesn’t look like they have many other places to go.”
“It’s a tough place to be right now,” Vann said. “Tim understands this is a conservative county, and you don’t start off by talking about raising taxes. He’s under a lot of pressure, and I wouldn’t want to be in his seat. Nobody’s in favor of raising taxes, but if that’s what we have to do to provide services, I think you do what you have to do.”
Early in his speech, the chairman lauded the county’s 4,000 employees, who have taken personal financial hits through the furlough days.
“For years, we’ve had a reputation for being the best at what we do. … It’s not the five elected officials who make that happen. More times than not, we get in the way and screw it up. It’s the 4,000 people who work for Cobb County, who work for you, who come to work day after day for 10 or 15 or 30 years that give everything they have to make this county great,” Lee said.
“We are the best-run county in the Southeast because of the employees who work for you. Just Tuesday, we got affirmation from the last two rating agencies that we are keeping our triple-triple A rating by all three agencies,” Lee said. “We are now one of only 20 cities in the U.S. that has triple-triple A rating from all three agencies.” The high ratings allow the county to borrow money more cheaply.
Lee also told the crowd the county is going to create a strategic plan, which will be its first.
“We’ve never had one,” he said. “When you have a lot of money, you don’t need a plan. You spend as you desire. But we need a strategic plan so all employees and citizens know where Cobb County is heading.”