MARIETTA — This week, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $2 million expenditure to cover public safety and transportation costs associated with the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, to be hosted at Truist Park this July.
The board’s approval came on the heels of a presentation Tuesday afternoon by Braves Development Company CEO Mike Plant, who said the Braves hoped to open the stadium to full capacity by June.
Most of the $2 million expenditure will be devoted to public safety expenses. $678,000 will go toward overtime pay for police, fire, 911, DOT and communications employees. Another $575,000 will be spent on a real time crime center and video surveillance wall.
The real time crime center was brought up by Public Safety Director Randy Crider earlier this year at the county government’s retreat, when he suggested that the board consider it during budget negotiations. But Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said the All-Star Game presented both a need and an opportunity to give the green light to the purchase.
“With this event, it was perceived that there was utility for that here with the large crowds that were expected,” she said. “It would have utility beyond the game, but with the large number of people expected and the prominence of the event, there was certainly interest in seeing how we could get that in place sooner.”
West Cobb Commissioner Keli Gambrill said despite her vote in favor of the item, she disagreed with “using the All-Star Game as the shield” for public safety spending.
“Do we need the real time crime center roster? You bet because again, if we have a lost child, you can never find a lost child quick enough,” she said. “But the bigger picture of it … is fulfilling the goal that the chair had to get a real time crime center in Cobb County in general. So then, is it really fair that we’re saying it’s $2 million that we’re paying for the All-Star Game?”
The board’s approval brings the total price tag — so far — for the game up to $2.3 million, counting another $300,000 transferred from the county to Cobb Travel and Tourism in December. Of that amount, $250,000 is being used to pay for renting the Cobb Galleria for satellite events.
The transfer came from an agenda item approved 5-0 by the board in December. Cupid said the board had not been informed at the time that the money would be used for the Galleria’s rental costs.
But Cupid reiterated the game will be a win for Cobb, saying via email, “Even with conservative estimates, we expect the return to the county to exceed the investment we are making to help keep Cobb County safe during an event with national and likely international prominence.”
County Finance Director Bill Volckmann has touted the benefits of the All-Star Game, writing in the initial agenda item that he expected “a robust return on this requested investment.” On Monday, he told commissioners while the general fund impact would be “fairly limited,” sales and hotel-motel taxes could yield “possibly big dollars for the county, when we look at the total package.”
But as the county would later acknowledge to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the $37 million to $190 million “economic impact” figure cited by Volckmann was provided courtesy of Major League Baseball.
At the board meeting, Volckmann, flanked by Sheriff Craig Owens, Cobb Police Chief Tim Cox and former Cobb Police Chief Michael Register, joked before the vote, “I feel really good with all these guys behind me. I’m going to ask them to come up during budget season as well.”
On Wednesday, however, Volckmann did not respond to a request for comment regarding the game’s purported financial impact.
Critics — including Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury — have suggested the MLB has fudged the numbers on Cobb’s return on investment. A tweet by Bradbury on Wednesday said based on a comparison with the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego, Cobb will only bring in an additional $275,000 in tax revenue for the event.
Commissioners also approved four new positions within the county probate court office by a vote of 4-1. East Cobb Commissioner Jerica Richardson was the lone vote against the measure. Because the board had denied a similar request from the District Attorney’s office earlier this month, she said, she could not support the probate court spots.
Four additional positions requested by Chief Judge Kelli Wolk to address a surge in firearms carry license permits were removed from the agenda before the meeting. Wolk said she would bring those positions in a separate proposal at a future date.
As commissioners filed out of the room Tuesday night, Richardson said her dissent was a matter of fairness across departments.
“I would like to see consistency in how we do the off-cycle budget changes. I want to have a standard way of making that decision,” Richardson said. “Until I have that clarity … I want us to make sure that we’re able to accommodate all the needs, because the needs are vast in the county. And that is a part of the budgeting process.”