Brett Bittner, a member of the Marietta School Board and chair of the Cobb Libertarian Party, criticizes the proposal as being outside the traditional role of government.
“The planned purchase and demolition of Marietta’s most affordable housing along the Franklin Road corridor in Marietta, to be resold at a loss to commercial developers, raises the question for Libertarians over whether this is the proper role of government,” Bittner said.
Bittner said passage of the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax in March will eliminate the debt incurred by the city school district by next year, giving residents tax relief.
“Not only would Mariettans miss out on a little extra money in their pockets should the referendum pass in November, but this proposal asks us to fund a losing business proposition,” Bittner said. “Who would invest in a business venture that is guaranteed to lose money?”
Passage of an education SPLOST in March will pay off the 1.187 mill debt incurred by the school board by August 2014. The $35 million Franklin Road bond would place 1.187 mills back on the property tax rolls, meaning that, based on today’s market, property owners who have a $200,000 home would pay an additional $94.96 per year for 20 years, said Beth Sessoms, the city’s economic development director. The city is now eyeing a 20-year bond, but the number of years it will be financed will not be finalized until the bond is approved, Sessoms said.
Looking for details
Councilman Grif Chalfant said in general he favors the Franklin Road bond proposal, but it’s a qualified yes since he wants to see the details of what properties are to be purchased. Chalfant addressed Bittner’s argument about the city buying properties at a loss by saying the vision should be on the long term.
“It may be a short term loss, but I think overall in the long run it’d be an immensely great deal to the city to revitalize that whole area,” Chalfant said.
Chalfant said the Franklin Road area has the potential to develop into a technology park like the one in Norcross.
“Maybe you can get some of those kinds of businesses to buy in next to Southern Tech and get some partnerships going,” he said. “The short term may hurt us, but the long term I see a lot of great new things coming.”
Mayor Steve Tumlin said he expected Bittner’s group would oppose the bond.
“They’re consistent,” the mayor said.
Yet, Tumlin believes it is the role of the city government to assist in the revitalization effort.
Tumlin, who refers to the Franklin Road apartment complexes not as “affordable housing,” but as “subpar housing,” said the properties have artificially high purchase prices because of the cash they generate from renters. It’s the city’s role to remove the artificial buoy keeping the price up, he said.
If an apartment complex costs several million for the city to purchase, and the city razes the complex and sells the land to a developer for less than it purchased the property for, the city would in the short run take a loss. But once the right developer moves in and builds a multi-million dollar commercial building, that development will add to the city’s property tax base, he said.
“To me, it’s not a loss, it’s an investment, an investment that’s truly measured by drawing from the artificial value down to a new market value that will grow as people reinvest into it,” Tumlin said. “It will lift the tax base up, it will create jobs, and it is investment. It will trickle throughout the entire community. It will make my house three miles away more valuable. It will make Mr. Bittner with the school board’s property more valuable.”
Tumlin said he welcomes debate over the bond.
“They have a philosophy, I have a philosophy,” the mayor said. “I think the purest form of democracy even counting our elections, is a general obligation bond.”
While the city could opt to finance the bond through an intergovernmental agreement, it is placing it before voters to let them decide what to do, Tumlin said.
The bond has its opponents, such as the Libertarian Party and Lance Lamberton’s Cobb Taxpayers Association, but it also has its supporters, among them the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said Chamber Chairman Greg Morgan.
“The Cobb Chamber supports the decision to place the Marietta redevelopment bond on the Nov. 5 referendum,” Morgan said. “This bond is an investment in the future of Marietta, and we feel it’s something the city’s residents will benefit from for years to come. It’s our hope the voters will make their way to the polls in November to show their support of the bond.”
Cobb Republican Party Chairman Joe Dendy and J.D. Van Brink, chairman of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party, say their organizations haven’t taken a position on the bond. Melissa Pike, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party, could not be reached for comment.