Commissioner Bob Ott is calling for a new $40 million green space referendum on the November ballot given that it’s been eight years since voters approved a similar referendum in 2008, a referendum that was never acted on.

Park lovers are growing impatient with the Board of Commissioners for dragging its feet on the measure.

In a letter to the MDJ, Jennifer Burke writes “the board has denied the democratic process by not funding the referendum created to provide an oasis of green space for communities.”

Burke goes on to describe how half of the 29 park bond properties that were identified for purchase with the 2008 bond have since been bulldozed by developers — and more are in danger.

“The 46-acre Bells Ferry park property in Commissioner JoAnn Birrell’s District 3 is again under serious risk of development, and many more chosen park properties are, too,” she writes.

As readers will recall, in November 2008, voters agreed to allow the county to issue up to $40 million in bonds to purchase parkland in Cobb County. Those bonds were never issued under then county Chairman Sam Olens because the economy tanked and he said it would result in a tax increase.

“As an incoming board member, I was led to believe that that was the basis to not issue the bond,” Ott said.

The matter fell off the radar until details of county Chairman Tim Lee’s plan to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County were released. Lee’s plan to finance the new ballpark involved increasing general fund millage just as debt service millage used for a previous park bond was paid off and decreased.

“So then people said ‘what about the 2008 park bond you never issued,’” Ott said.

Because of the passage of time and the language of the referendum, the county’s finance director said Cobb would no longer be able to collect the full $40 million for parkland from the 2008 bond were it issued today.

Ott said he can’t get a straight answer as to whether the public was promised, prior to the referendum, that a bond issuance would not result in a tax increase.

“I can’t get an answer to that question, and I think it’s an important fact in the discussion because it’s not written in the resolution, but I seem to be getting a lot of input that it was said. That’s the whole reason Sam used to not issue it,” Ott said. “As a result of all that, to me, it would make sense to just do another referendum … That would clear it up and that would also allow you to get to the $40 million again.”

Ott would call it a green space initiative rather than a park referendum because he said the goal is not necessarily to buy property to create more parks but to preserve green space.

“Let’s just do it again. Let the people decide. My guess is they’re going to say yes,” he said.

Birrell approaches the subject in a slightly different way. She wants to spend the full $40 million on green space, but says since there’s only $19 million left in the 2008 bond, go ahead and spend that first, with priority on the original properties identified for the 2008 bond that are left.

She would then make up the balance of the $40 million with a new bond issuance or by funding it some other way in the county’s budget.

“I want to do it the quickest way,” Birrell said.

He’s back. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports an affiliate of John Williams’ Preferred Apartment Communities has filed plans for a 450,000-square-foot office tower with 45,000 square feet of retail at a Cumberland project called Encore Center.

Readers may remember the infamous 2013 battle between Williams and the Cobb Board of Education over the proposed $103 million mixed-use “Riverwalk” development in Cumberland he wanted.

While the county government declined to grant the project incentives on the grounds that it didn’t qualify for them, Lee encouraged the developer to seek tax abatements through the Development Authority of Cobb County. The development authority, chaired by Clark Hungerford, agreed to grant the property a tax abatement by issuing bonds to finance the project.

That brought a challenge from the Cobb school board in December 2013. The school board argued that the tax abatement took away the school board’s right to tax properties and would deny the school system millions in property tax revenue.

The legal challenge spurred Williams to withdraw the application for the tax break and move his company, Preferred Apartment Communities, out of Cobb County, where it had been located for 10 years. He told the Business Chronicle at the time the move was a direct result of the Riverwalk development being denied the incentives.

“I’m only willing to be kicked in the a-- once,” Williams told the Chronicle.

The Cobb Police Department officially retired K9 Diesel on Monday. Diesel, a Belgian Malinois from the Czech Republic, was born in 2006. He was paired with Officer Mark Blakeney in 2007. In their nearly 10 years together, Diesel and Blakeney have tracked and located well over 100 criminals to include burglars, armed robbers, and murder suspects and have located over 15 guns used in the commission of those crimes. They have made nearly 400 narcotics arrests, seized $1.5 million dollars in drug money, and detected over $13.2 million worth of illegal narcotics. Diesel will spend his retirement living with Blakeney.


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