During town hall, Birrell addresses water funding and backyard chickens
by Jon Gillooly
October 18, 2012 12:37 AM | 4308 views | 9 9 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell addresses the audience during a town hall meeting at Mountain View Community Center in Marietta. <br> Photo by Emily Barnes
Cobb County District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell addresses the audience during a town hall meeting at Mountain View Community Center in Marietta.
Photo by Emily Barnes
The audience listens as Birrell speaks during the meeting. <br> Photo by Emily Barnes
The audience listens as Birrell speaks during the meeting.
Photo by Emily Barnes
NORTHEAST COBB — Commissioner JoAnn Birrell faced a barrage of questions at a Wednesday night town hall about the county’s practice of transferring $20 million from the water system to its general fund.

Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb, didn’t come alone: About 20 county employees, including county attorney Dorothy Bishop and transportation director Faye DiMassimo, joined the crowd of about 150 at the Mountain View Community Center.

Audience member John Velten asked Birrell about the commissioners’ practice of transferring 10 percent of the total revenue from the Cobb Water System — $20 million to $21 million — to its general fund to help balance its budget.

“As a homeowner who is paying a mortgage, those would be taxes if they charged us as taxes as opposed to took away the money from our water bill or increased our water bill,” Velten said. “I can’t deduct the water bill from my taxes, so that’s basically taking away an opportunity from us to get a significant tax deduction.”

Jim Astuto asked if water rates are going to increase again in January by 5 to 8 percent in order to continue the $20 million transfer.

“(County chairman) Tim Lee stands up there and says we haven’t raised rates. That’s not true,” Astuto said. “When you raise the water rates to fund the county, you’re raising taxes.”

Birrell said last year’s water fee increase was a result of the cost of water the county buys increasing.

In response, Astuto said, “You’re funding general revenues with the (Cobb Water System), and I know it’s been done forever and Helen Goreham says it’s legal, but it’s not right.”

Birrell said that when she voted to pass the budget last month, she requested that staff examine a way to reduce the water transfer amount over a period of three to five years by $5 million. Birrell raised the issue after it was brought to the public’s attention by Southeast Commissioner Bob Ott.

“It’s not something that we can just pull the plug on overnight,” she said. “It’s going to take time, but I am definitely recommending that we do away with it.”

Astuto said his comments weren’t meant as a denunciation of Birrell.

“I applaud you and Bob Ott for bringing it up and trying to do it, but I heard the other three (commissioners) sitting there going ‘uh-uh,’” Astuto said.

Herb McKinnell asked Birrell when the county will start using the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir.

“You’ll have to ask the city of Canton and the Water Authority that,” Birrell said. “They had some issues with the city trying to sell it, and they don’t want to give up their rights.”

Another question from the audience came from Pam Subalusky, who pointed out that a few years ago Cobb “paid a lot of money” for a study about a storm water utility fee proposal.

“It was not approved at the final moment I believe for political reasons,” Subalusky said.

The fee would be based on the amount of impermeable surface a property owner had. Parking lot owners would be charged more than houses with a driveway.

“I’m wondering if Cobb County is reconsidering it, because then you would not have a situation where you’re taking money from one area to another,” Subalusky said. “It would be much more fair to have a fee that is proportional to how much of a water issue each particular homeowner or landowner has.”

Birrell said commissioners have been discussing the issue.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s not something that is very favorable right now because it is another fee,” she said. “I understand what you’re saying to be proportional, but there are a lot of lakes and properties just in this district … a lot of subdivisions that want it and that would benefit from it. The problem is if you do it, it’s got to be countywide. Where west Cobb doesn’t have the infrastructure problems and the issues with the lakes that I have in District 3, they might not be so receptive to it because they’re not going to benefit from it like the subdivisions over here.”

Velten also asked Birrell about the sewer fee the county charges.

The county’s billing system is set up so that residents connected to the county’s sewer system are charged on all the water that goes through their meter. The county doesn’t meter sewage because it’s too expensive, said Stephen McCullers, director of the Water System.

“I don’t understand why as a lucky person who happens to be on a sewer line — when my septic tank failed I had to get sewer connections — that I had to pay an additional somewhere on the order of 55 percent more than the neighbor across the street who waters the snot out of his yard, but he doesn’t have to pay that sewer line because he’s not on the sewer,” Velten said. “To me, sewer should be countywide just exactly for everybody because we all benefit.”

McCullers said he wished it could be different, but that’s just the way it was.

Supporters who want to change the county’s ordinance when it comes to chickens, which currently requires two acres of property to have chickens, also addressed Birrell.

Brad Norman of east Cobb of the Backyard Chicken Alliance asked how many votes would it take Birrell to support the movement to allow backyard hens for egg production or pets.

Norman said his group currently has 2,500 signatures from Cobb County residents in support of his cause, pointing out Tim Lee’s narrow victory in the August runoff, where he won by fewer than 1,500 votes.

“I don’t have a number off the top of my head,” Birrell said.

Birrell said the county’s staff is reviewing options that could revise the code. The county takes up code changes at the beginning of each year.

“I personally feel that the two-acre minimum-law is what we need to have,” Birrell said.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 25, 2012
Please turn off my street light. Its ugly, wastes energy, pollutes the light, glares in my window all night and I have to pay it. Ever heard of a motion detector?
Kenny Cook
October 18, 2012
About the chickens: How much land is required to have 6 dogs, including a Great Dane, like my neighbor? He's actually on .46 acres. What about the people across the street who have a pool and all summer long there are squeals and loud laughter until well passed sunset? I've heard the "argument" about property values. Having facilitated over 3,600 real estate purchases of single family homes I find the objection to a handful of hens living in a "tea house" quite gelastic.

Food prices are spiking, recalls on meats are commonplace, the objection to chemically enhanced growth, and other health and welfare concerns are much greater than any objection I have heard which may even approach validity. This is a new day, a new age and new families are quite more interested in what they feed their loved ones than what color the neighbor paints her mailbox.

I was here when the change was made. My father was a developer and builder and my sister one of the earliest female real estate brokers. She started out with Northside (Johnny Isakson in case you don't know). I know why they drove out the suburban farmer. Not one person I know of is asking for a chicken house filled with hundreds of forced laying hens for commercial purposes.

Some hen huts look better than a tea house or child's playground. Hens are quiet, eat bugs including some dangerous ones and 4 hens make less noise and less odor than 1 40 pound dog - ever spread what comes out of a dog on your roses or tomatoes? Ever serve your child what comes out of a cat?

I'm on the Paleo diet with my family and we eat at least 6 eggs and one chicken every day. For free range, grass feed eggs and chicken we pay at least 2 times what the shelf variety costs.

I guess there is little doubt where I stand on this issue. I have been here since 1959 - I have never heard ONE person ask in a real estate transaction, "Do I have to worry about my neighbors owning a hen?" But I have had several comment about the barking, smelly dog. (I love dogs by the way.)

What's outlawed next, personal gardens? Herb gardens? Rose trellises?
October 25, 2012
Careful Kenny they will outlaw dogs.
October 18, 2012
Twenty county employees?

That's quite and entourage.

Other than the ones who contributed to answering questions at the meeting I hope they aren't able to count their attendance as comp time.
October 25, 2012
Ain't it good to be a commissioner.
Pat H
October 18, 2012
What about the street light slush fund? Those funds were also transferred.

Since street lights are assessed against those streets that have them, I want mine turned off. I did not vote to have them because that was done before I moved in.
Samuel Adams
October 18, 2012
Bill Byrne was actually the first one I heard raising the red flag about this practice, which is nothing more than finding another way to tax us without admitting it's a tax. Too bad all these people didn't vote for Bill during the primaries; instead, they gave Lee a pass to do just about anything he wants.

Anyone else notice how much Joanne looks like the SNL church lady? She should take advantage of that! I've never met her, but thank her for her service. Wish she could do something about the water situation.
October 18, 2012
You all can thank Sam Olens for the sleight of hand on the water funds and Timmy just follows orders. This is conversion of funds by a government agency tax payers are being defrauded by that government. Cobb County owns their taxpayers a tax credit because you are losing a tax write off. I think the RICCO act covers this.
October 25, 2012
If you or I did this it would be theft by conversion. Pay me for water. Oops I mean taxes.
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