The county is in a budget bind the likes of which it hasn't seen since the Great Depression, back when the county government and budget were both miniscule. But deficit currently looming is anything but miniscule, some $31 million for FY 2011's $328 million budget. And next year isn't likely to be much better.
That had the commissioners this week talking about solutions.
Northwestern District Commissioner Helen Goreham raised eyebrows by arguing that the commission should consider a tax increase, although she didn't quite advocate doing it.
A tax hike is "the evil term out there," she noted, adding that cost would probably just come to a few cents per day for most homeowners.
"To right this ship, I think it needs to be considered," she said.
Courthouse watchers think Goreham was signaling that her vote is available should two other members of the five-person board decide that such a hike might be easier medicine to swallow than the deep cuts they would otherwise have to make in the budget.
"It makes sense, to a degree, to go ahead and raise taxes instead of making those cuts," said one observer. "But they'd have hell to pay with the public at the polls later on."
Indeed they would in this mostly conservative county, which is a hotbed of Tea Party activity.
Some note that there is a greater consensus at present on the need to shrink government than there has ever been.
"And if we don't do it now, we're never going to do it," said one person who's keeping an eye on the proceedings.
It begs the philosophical question of whether the county exists to fund a jobs program, or whether the county government exists to serve the public safety and other civic infrastructure needs of the public.
It's AT's opinion that the commission would spark a firestorm of criticism via such a tax hike vote. After all, the just-concluded successful push to approve the SPLOST was premised on the argument that a failure to reapprove that sales tax would mean a property tax hike. It would be the height of cynicism to now hike taxes just weeks after the SPLOST vote. Moreover, such a proposal also would ensure that next year's state TSPLOST proposal would be DOA in Cobb.
None of the other four commissioners have given any public indication of interest in joining Goreham in a tax hike. Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who plans to seek a full term in office from voters next year, would seem especially unfriendly to the notion of a tax increase. Yet one courthouse watcher predicted that the most likely votes to line up with Goreham might be those of Lee and frequent ally Northeast Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell.
As for Goreham's hints of support for a tax hike, some think her public flirting with the idea was partly "show" and partly politics, as a disproportionate number of county employees (who can form a sizeable voting bloc) are thought to live in west Cobb.
They're names that need no introduction to most in Cobb: former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr (R-Marietta) and former Cobb Commissioner Thea Powell.
Barr is an NRA board member and former U.S. Attorney for Atlanta who ran unsuccessfully in 2008 for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination. Powell represented east Cobb on the commission in the late 1980s and again last summer when she was appointed to Lee's old seat on an interim basis. She wound up frequently clashing with Lee about county spending and honed her reputation as an outspoken, no-nonsense public servant. She's also viewed as a potential rival of Lee's for the chairmanship next year and was recently appointed by Ott - over Lee's objection - to the Cobb Development Authority.
The two agreed to take the appointments only after being assured that they would be allowed to offer "meaningful input," Ott said.
Other members are Dave Welden, Ford Thigpen, Charles Casto, Robert Plunkett, Beverly Collins, Brett McClung, Jim Rhoden and Vance Booker.
The commission belatedly voted 4-1 on Tuesday to activate the supposed budget-whacking committee, which was approved last December as a way of building support for the SPLOST, and in exchange for Ott's vote for the SPLOST referendum's enabling resolution. But it then fell by the wayside, with Lee deciding to try and get the tax passed before tackling the budget.
The eight original members of the committee were named Tuesday, but Ott noted that county attorney Dorothy Bishop and Lee have said that Barr and Powell are welcome to attend its meetings even though they have yet to have their nominations approved. But the two cannot vote until after their nominations are OK'd, Bishop said.
The committee has a long way to go and a short time to get there. It's due to present its initial recommendations to the commission by June 28 and be deactivated on Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, some courthouse-watchers question just how effective the "scalpel committee" will be, fearing that some may be "go-along to get-along" types who lack the stomach for deep cuts.
CHAIRMAN LEE unexpectedly backed up and punted this week on the county's earlier offer to developer Woody Snell for his planned $40 million Town Village of Kennesaw mixed-use development. His stated reason for doing so was the "potential that our incentive offer may conflict with certain provisions of a development agreement" between Snell and county.
The county had offered Snell a $200,000 discount on building-permit fees and was willing to let him spread payments on his estimated $660,000 sewer development over three years. Snell planned to buy up the aging Hidden Forest Subdivision as the site for his project.
Lee's "take-back" of his offer came just three days after the MDJ started asking questions about it.
Now comes word that several Hidden Forest homeowners - who had accepted the offer from Snell, but became disgruntled after he never came up with the money and now are unable to sell their houses - were threatening to file a court suit against Snell. In addition, several supporters of Ott were reportedly on the verge of filing ethics charges against Lee and the county over the deal.
Now a legal source and WellStar critic tells AT that the number of doctors in that network is about to grow substantially. Look for WellStar to soon complete acquisition of one of Cobb's largest remaining specialty-doctor networks after a year of negotiations, he says. Reportedly pushing for the takeover is lawyer Randall Bentley Sr., chair of the WellStar Board of Trustees.
RETIRED MARIETTA HIGH SCHOOL assistant principal Jack Callahan of Marietta died at home Friday morning of complications from metastatic lung cancer. Callahan was a Marine infantry officer who did several combat tours in Vietnam, where he earned a pair of Purple Heart Medals, or as he jokingly called them, "North Vietnamese Army Marksmanship Awards." Callahan, who was a fixture at Marietta Kiwanis meetings and never lost his robust Boston accent, will be missed.
Susan Aikman Miles is retiring from Lockheed Martin after 25 as senior manager for employee communications. The Marietta native and former MDJ managing editor is the daughter of former Cobb County Times editor Leo Aikman.
Scott Gregory, managing member of the Brock, Clay, Calhoun & Rogers law firm in Marietta, will emcee the event.