This week Georgia State University released a city of East Cobb “feasibility study” nearly as breathless and gushing as the song-and-dance press release accompanying it.
“East Cobb Cityhood Group releases ‘favorable’ Feasibility Study,” trumpeted the release.
The media dutifully picked it up and ran with it.
What? You thought the mystery committee that forked over $36,000 for the study would get results that said launching Cobb’s seventh city is a bad idea? Not this study.
Atop all the glowing prose was this jewel: No tax increase would be required to form the city of east Cobb, the study claims.
“The cure for advanced gullibility,” famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once said, “is to go to sleep and consider matters again the next day.”
This is not to mean a new city in Cobb County is lèse-majesté.
East Cobb was birthed via suburban sprawl. A city hall with a town square could enhance a sense of identity, grow civic pride and give the community its heart.
Falling almost entirely within Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott’s District 2, the proposed city would be Cobb’s largest at 97,000 souls, dwarfing the county seat of Marietta’s 61,000.
But while the study touts the feasibility and allure of cityhood, there are holes in the report that must be plugged.
Georgia State believes the city could expect annual revenues of about $48 million with expenses of $45 million.
Cobb County levies a millage rate totaling 11.45. That number breaks down into 1) 8.46 for the general fund 2) 2.86 for the fire fund and 3) 0.13 for debt service.
The Georgia State analysis not only lists the wrong county millage rate, it states that the fire fund is included in the county’s general fund.
The report also says the new city could live with a millage rate of 2.96 mills for property taxes.
That’s peachy keen, but don’t forget that becoming a city doesn’t exempt residents from paying the county’s general fund millage rate.
(Whether residents of a new city would be on the hook for a portion of county debt depends on how the legislation is written.)
There is also the matter of how the county would function once a number of its revenue sources were drawn down by a seventh city.
Clint Mueller, legislative director with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, listed the following revenues that would transfer from Cobb County to the new city, forcing the county to decide whether to scale back services or raise taxes to offset the loss:
• Fire fund levy from proposed area of East Cobb. This could likely be absorbed by scaling back the county’s fire service, Mueller believes, but it would be difficult to scale back specialty fire services that may be needed countywide.
• Alcohol Taxes
• Insurance Premium Tax
• Cable Franchise Fees
• Business Licenses and Permits
• Service Delivery Strategy Revenue Transfers (a state law that addresses double taxation and duplication of government services)
• Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (From Georgia Department of Transportation for local road projects)
• Planning and Development Fees – County will have to reduce its planning and development services accordingly
• E-911 Fee
• Vehicle Title Ad Valorem Tax.
Because the new east Cobb city still has to pay the county’s general fund rate, any increase in the countywide property tax rate brought on by the loss of the revenue from the categories listed above would fall on the new city of east Cobb residents as well as everyone else in Cobb.
Mueller notes the Georgia State report also erred in stating the new city would not receive the Title Ad Valorem Tax because it has no car dealerships. In fact, he said TAVT is allocated based upon the owner’s address, not the address of the dealership where the vehicle was purchased.
The proposed city of east Cobb lists $7.3 million in franchise fees in its revenue category, and it’s here where east Cobb residents would be paying new taxes for electric, natural gas and telephone franchise fees. They call them fees, but any fee one is forced to pay is a tax, and those who argue otherwise fool no one.
County residents don’t pay these franchise fees because the county cannot legally charge them in unincorporated areas. Cities can.
So who is behind this push and how strong is East Cobb sentiment for cityhood?
Little is known about the committee that paid for the study.
The Secretary of State’s Office lists the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb forming as a domestic nonprofit corporation on Sept. 4 with an address of 35 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta.
The registered agent is Owen Brown, who is also listed by the Secretary of State at the same Johnson Ferry Road address as CEO of both Retail Planning Management Company and Tallahassee Holdings, Inc. Brown has not made any public statements. Cobb resident Joe Gavalis is the only “public” committee member, issuing press releases. In addition, the group has retained media personality Phil Kent as its image consultant.
But the number and names of the rest remain shrouded. The MDJ has asked for the names of other members to no avail. The committee evidently prefers to pull its strings from a dark corner.
The reason for forming the city of East Cobb is as clear as the muddy Chattahoochee River that borders it. Some have suggested the proposal was accelerated by political changes in Cobb County. The idea here is if a redistribution of wealth and resources is coming, there are some in east Cobb who would prefer to build their own wall now.
There are certainly positives to life in the big city — local control, police and fire protection can add to the quality of life. But such amenities don’t come without a price.
East Cobb residents should approach this issue with eyes wide open. Don’t be lured by the pundits and politicians.
And certainly don’t make a decision based on this one study that uses fuzzy math, introduces inaccuracies and leaves too many holes. Much more information is needed before the people of East Cobb decide whether or not to proceed.