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A packed house was in attendance at Wednesday's Cobb commission meeting. Just after 10 p.m., three hours after the meeting began, commissioners approved 3-2 a millage increase of 1.7 mills. / Staff-Jon Gargis

MARIETTA — Cobb commissioners approved Chairman Mike Boyce’s proposed property tax increase of 1.7 mills by a 3-2 vote after more than two hours of public and commissioner comment.

Boyce proposed a fiscal 2019 budget of $966.1 million. Its proposed general fund budget of $454.1 million included a general fund property tax hike from 6.76 mills to 8.46 mills. This increase, coupled with the rising digest, would generate $283.5 million in property tax revenue, an increase of about $65 million over fiscal 2018.

He found support for the higher millage, as expected, from Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who had advocated for the tax hike and expressed a desire in past months for an even higher increase to support county services, as well as Commissioner Bob Weatherford, who in past weeks had been a softer “yes” in favor of some increase. While Weatherford previously said he had hoped to see the county make cuts to spending to reduce the increase, he gave his support to Boyce’s full measure.

“The chairman’s proposal of 1.7 (mills) gets us where we need to be in the next five years. It’s a restoration budget,” Weatherford said. “I think it’s time to invest in Cobb’s future — I think it’s time for all of us to step up so our kids and our grandkids will have a better place here than when we got here, and my goal has always been to make Cobb a better place than when I got here, and to do that, you have to invest in Cobb’s future.”

Weatherford’s vote came a night after the Republican incumbent was defeated in the GOP runoff by challenger Keli Gambrill for his District 1 seat, which covers northwest Cobb. While commissioners normally would have met Tuesday night, the meeting date coinciding with the runoff led Boyce to postpone the meeting by a day.

“After I lost the election last night, I reflected and said ‘What did I do wrong?’ I decided it’s what I did right that people don’t like,” Weatherford said, to applause from some in the audience. “I made the hard choices that I did what I said I was going to do. I stood up for the county.”

All five commissioners had made hard choices in the monthslong budget process, Weatherford added.

“The slings and arrows we have endured, we shouldn’t have to do. There should be some respect out there. … I’ve been challenged to a fist fight, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been called every name in the book — why? And I’m not alone,” Weatherford said. “Whether you’re for or against this, people, you need to start respecting these people up here, because if you think we’re up here for the money, you’re crazy. I have done this for 16 years, and the only thing I’m running for now is the hills, but I will not leave this county worse off than when I got here, so I completely support this.”

Weatherford’s “16 years” comment alluded to his time as an Acworth alderman, a role he held before seeking his commission seat. He will serve the remainder of his four-year term through December.

Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott voted against the increase.

“Before this board is a budget not begun from cuts or reductions in duplications of services, but instead it began from a $21 million infusion of one-time money. Added on top of this is are more employees, bloated contingency funds and additional library hours, which adds more personnel,” Ott said.

Birrell’s vote against the 1.7 mills came after she had offered a compromise — a “more reasonable” 1.2 to 1.3-mill increase, adding that she could not support Boyce’s proposed “arbitrary raise.” But the proposal was never officially brought before her fellow commissioners as Weatherford went on to voice his support for Boyce’s proposal, ultimately providing the deciding vote.

“There’s been a lot of talk of how we got here. In 2016, all members of this board, with the exception of the chairman, voted to roll back the millage, and every one of us on here agreed to that, it was a 5-0 vote, and we’ve all said we wish we hadn’t,” Birrell said. “It was a mistake.”

Birrell and Ott also voted in the negative on Boyce’s budget, which passed by a 3-2 vote.

RESIDENTS WEIGH IN

Nearly four dozen citizens addressed commissioners for close to two hours on the tax hike, with a majority in favor of the increase but a significant number in opposition.

“My family has enjoyed the services of libraries, parks and aquatics centers and arts centers. I am here today with others who value these services,” said Shelley Callico, a west Cobb resident and proponent of the increase. “As a fiscal conservative, I have never in my life actively campaigned or voted for a tax increase, (but) I am standing here today to ask that you vote for the 1.7 millage rate increase so we can preserve our quality of life in Cobb County.”

But Pamela Reardon, a Realtor and first vice chair of the Cobb County Republican Party, said proponents of the tax increase had been the target of the county’s “media campaign that you have to cut libraries, parks, senior citizens’ facilities and animal control” if the millage rate increase was not approved.

“Everyone has to understand that these facilities are not going to be cut — it was just a campaign to get you up and arms about it,” Reardon said. “There seems to be a mysterious hole that has never really been explained, and the numbers keep changing magically.”

The crowd remained civil during most of the public comment, though Boyce admonished attendees who interrupted one of the final speakers of the night.

“One thing you may not be aware of is how deep-seated and unpopular this tax increase is among the citizens of Cobb County,” said Lance Lamberton, chairman and founder of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, which drew a response of “No” by several in the crowd. The interruption led to the rebuke from the chairman, who then apologized and allowed Lamberton to resume after restarting his three-minute time limit that all speakers had been granted.

“I don’t think that what you’re hearing at hearings like this is representative of the popular opinion regarding this tax increase,” continued Lamberton.

During a break in the meeting following the vote, Boyce said he was relieved his millage rate was approved. He had told those in attendance he believed the new rate would sustain Cobb “well into the future.

“Maintaining this lifestyle in Cobb will be an investment for you, your children and your grandchildren,” he said.

Follow Jon Gargis on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JonGargis

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(20) comments

DMcGinley

See you later Bob Weatherford! Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya!!! More to come! I honestly believe the rest are horrible and Boyce is a RINO, well except Bob Ott. He seems like he actually cares what his constituents think, asks for feedback and isn't primarily funded by the developers, home builders and the lawyers that represent them. Heck, I sent an email to JoAnn Birrell complaining about the access the developer, Todd Thrasher, had to her the last break before the vote on the old Mountain View site walking off down a hallway with him when none of us peons are allowed in that hallway. She forwarded that email on to the lawyer who represented the developer to let him know. Thankful for the Freedom of information act where they have to reveal that information if asked!

LUKE BRACKETT

Surprised to see Bob Weatherford vote YES after he lost his job last Tuesday. One would think he would need to cut expenses since he has to pay property tax too and now being unemployed doesn't help.

DMcGinley

I'm sure the developers and home builders gave extra to him to cover if he lost

kkthxby3

He couldn't see beyond his personal feelings being hurt. That or he is being paid off.

Fred Farkel

Boyce must go. Tax and spend liberal marine.

MariettaNative

From the article:

"After I lost the election last night, I reflected and said ‘What did I do wrong?’ I decided it’s what I did right that people don’t like,” Weatherford said, to applause from some in the audience. “I made the hard choices that I did what I said I was going to do. I stood up for the county.”

Um, that might not be it...

Bill Hicks

Anyone who doesn't want this increase, please tell me a Metro Atlanta county that has a lower mileage rate than Cobb? You people want Cobb County to pay you for the privilege of living here. Cobb is still the most penny-pinching county around. I'll be personally voting against JoAnn Burrell next time she is up for reelection, just because of her vote. 1.7 mils is more than reasonable, 2.0 would have been better and still kept Cobb lower than all other Metro Atlanta counties.

Fred Farkel

No. You have it all wrong. You are the reason politicians get these tax increases. Cobb Lifestyle my foot. Pot holed roads, losing public schools, crooked politicos. Yep thats the Cobb Lifestyle for you. You can have it.

JDC

No accountability on the Cobb county officials. Let’s just pass a tax increase without auditing spending. Kinda of like Pelosi saying let’s just pass the bill and we’ll read it later. Time for this type of leadership to go. Mike Boyce should be impeached before he does anymore damage. After he’s gone he should be investigated and prosecuted if found guilty of being on the take.

Anonymous

I am not going to comment about the millage, but I do want to say something about the Citizens that keep saying that the County gave the employees a raise. I wish you would look at who really benefited from that increase. It only benefited the higher ups at the County, not the workers! Some Directors/Managers/etc. received more than a $25,000 increase while County workers didn't receive ANYTHING. Sorry, that has been bothering me for a while and I had to say it! The fact is over 50% of employees didn't get any kind of increase. Please do not say that all employees got an increase. My rant is over. Thanks.

Anonymous1

I'd say more like 90%+ didn't get a raise. Only some of the ones who were already making the most money have seen pay increases. No pay raise this year, none next year, and I'm already hearing nothing should be expected the following year. No raises, and virtually no pension. I also hear employees are leaving in droves. It's not the Cobb County I once knew.

Anonymous

You are correct. I know we have lost so many employees due to the pay, incentives, etc. that others Counties can offer. The ones that are still here are having to do the job of several other people and never get appreciated for doing so. That pay class study was a waste of money and time that didn't benefit anyone other than the ones already making 6 figures a year with the County!! Thanks Anonymous1 for your comment.

budgard09

Just because Cobb has a lower tax rate than other metro counties is not a reason to increases.our taxes. The County needs to stop its ridiculous spending and I don't mean libraries and parks. I voted for and campaigned for Mike Boyce who ran on fiscal responsibility in government and this is what I get Time for a recall election

AtlEng

What if fiscal responbility involves raising taxes? You seem to think fiscal repsonsibility is only ok if we cut taxes.

Bill Hicks

I agree that, in and of itself, other counties are not the "reason" for raising our mileage rate. However, It does take money to run Cobb County and using other counties mileage rate is certainly acceptable in my opinion, you get what you pay for. For too long, Cobb County has run on a "shoestring" budget, mainly on the backs of county employees....and they are leaving in droves. You voted for Boyce, a known demorat, over Tim Lee, because you were mad about the Braves coming to Cobb County. Physically speaking, the Braves are and will continue to pay big dividends to Cobb County in the form of new tax revenue. I stand by my previous statement. You people who are against the mileage rate increase want Cobb County to pay you to live here. Tell me another county, in Georgia or anywhere else in the United States, that offers the services Cobb offers, and at such a low tax rate. If you are unhappy with some of the services provided, step up and run for office on that platform and see if our fellow citizens agree with you and put you into office.

Mark Mc

Tax Hike Mike has made raising taxes his mission since election. I keep looking for anything on savings, nothing. I see sidewalks built in odd areas that never have human feet touch them. Now the "tent city" for homeless? I thought MUST Ministries led that, which BTW the County turned down their proposed new building on property that could easily have had a variance. Mike Boyce also insisted the we, the taxpayers fund the Transportation Study which the Chamber of Commerce group was going to fund. His reason - optics. Same study, just optics and we pay.

Lisa Cupid is right about one thing, this county is changing. Its now a total Democratic Tax and Spend County. Mike Boyce is no more a Republican and his transformation has been stunning. However, I've seen this movie before. Lisa Cupid will certainly change Cobb - into a DeKalb County clone. I grew up there. I saw it become the land of taxes then decline to the sorry state it is today.

She is smart though, she has Tax Hike Mike wrapped around her little finger.

JDC

Cobb County should now be known and called Corrupt county. Mike Boyce is a liar and should be impeached. Cobb county spending is out of control and before any tax increase there should of been an audit on the budget. No doubt in my mind Cupid and Boyce are on the take. Both would look good in prison uniforms picking up garbage on the side of the road. Both are disgusting human beings. One and done Boyce,Ott and Cupid. Weatherord enjoy retirement.

Fred Farkel

You are right. Lisa Cupid is a race hustler. Boyce is a RINO and a complete disgrace to the USMC. This county is a corruption pit. The Braves deal got rid of Lee but like cancer we now have Boyce and still have Lisa StupidCupid.

Bill Hicks

I would love to see an audit of Cobb County Government. Let's break it all down and see just how much we are paying for services. Those "pay" studies were bogus and everyone in the county knew it. The forms from the pay study company had the word "Dekalb" scratched off and Cobb placed over it. The study was used to give a select few supervisors a pay raise, not the average county employee. If they Marietta Daily Journal did it's job, they would get to the bottom of that mess and hold county leaders accountable for mishandling taxpayer money. My point about the mileage rate in my earlier post is very valid. For years, commissioners lowered the mileage rate because they are backdooring tax increases because of rising property values. Then they would run on the platform of "We lowered the mileage rate; Aren't we great." The mileage rate may or may not be at the appropriate rate but it is still lower than any other Metro Atlanta county. Every 10 years, I'd like to see an audit of Cobb County. Let's see where our money is going.

Chris

Is this really due to the baseball stadium boondoggle? I really feel stolen-from due to that ordeal. I’m looking to take my “business” elsewhere within the next 5 years.

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