MARIETTA — Despite a commissioner’s plea to fund construction of a northeast Cobb park, such a measure was tabled Tuesday night by a 3-2 vote over concerns of how the park’s future costs would be paid for.
The board had been scheduled to vote on a $2.85 million construction contract to develop 26.5-acre Mabry Park by Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church off Sandy Plains Road. It had previously been within the district of Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, but amended district boundaries that took effect this January put the park within Commissioner Bob Ott’s district.
But Ott, along with Chairman Mike Boyce and Commissioner Bob Weatherford, voted to delay a vote on the contract until next month, arguing that the commission has not developed a policy regarding how the county would fund operation and maintenance costs for projects constructed through funding out of Cobb’s special purpose local option sales tax.
Birrell urged her fellow commissioners to approve the construction contract, saying that it was the only measure related to the park being considered Tuesday.
“This park isn’t going to be finished for a year and a half. We will have already set the millage for 2018, approved a budget in September for 2019, and the park won’t still be finished. Why can’t we approve the construction tonight?” Birrell asked.
Ott said he could not immediately support building Mabry Park when other park properties in his district had not been funded by the county, including Hyde Farm, a 95-acre property off Lower Roswell Road near the Chattahoochee River that features buildings that have stood since the mid-1800s. He previously told the MDJ that the county had previously pursued efforts to turn the property into a working farm to show what farming was like in Cobb during that time frame, but a lack of funding had not brought those plans to fruition.
“No one up here is saying that this (Mabry) Park is not going to be built. It’s going to be built,” Ott said. “We cannot continue to build things and not open them because they’re not funded.”
Boyce contended that he and the county had been criticized last month following the commission’s vote to use one-time funds to pay the salaries of employees of the $10.6 million Sewell Mill Library and Cultural Center on Lower Roswell Road, which is expected to open in December. The county plans use of about $284,000 from an economic development contingency fund — money set aside to help keep the county afloat in case of another recession — to pay for four Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs staffers in the Sewell Mill Library.
Had the construction contract been approved Tuesday, county staffers had expected to see the park begin construction in January, with completion in January 2019. Beginning with the 2019 budget, the park’s ongoing annual costs were expected to be about $105,000, according to county documents.
“When we vote on a SPLOST project, we’re also voting on the (operation and maintenance) that comes from it,” Boyce said. “Sadly, the project that got caught between a rock and a hard place was Mabry Park.”
A discussion on a possible board policy regarding O&M costs of constructed SPLOST projects could take place during commissioners’ annual retreat next week, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the city of Austell’s Threadmill Complex.