In the shadow of The Great Recession, an easy question to ask would be, "Why would a group of property owners volunteer to pay higher property taxes?"
The answer can be found in the rebounding tax digests within Cobb County's two Community Improvement Districts, Cumberland and the Town Center Area.
"In 2012, the property tax digest increased in value in both CIDs, and these were the only areas in the county that experienced increases during that calendar year," said Tad Leithead, chairman of the Cumberland CID.
In fact, the TCACID tax digest grew from nearly $583 million in 2011 to $602 million in 2012, resulting in a 3 percent increase in taxes collected. The Town Center Area CID is located near the busy Town Center Mall in Kennesaw, fronted by Ernest Barrett Parkway and nestled between I-75 and I-575. The CID's boundaries extend, roughly, from Chastain Road to the north, Barrett Parkway to the south, Bells Ferry Road to the east and Cobb Parkway to the west.
"We have the ability to generate money and use that money in the ways that we find to be most advantageous to our district," said TCACID Chairman Mason Zimmerman. "CIDs are unique that way."
A CID is formed when a group of property owners in a defined area agree to pay higher property taxes in order to fund improvements in the region. Frequently, these changes are transportation-related and aimed at relieving traffic and congestion.
Such was the case with the recently completed Big Shanty Connector, a road that reconnects an old route broken in the '70s to allow for I-75. The corridor provides an east-west alternative to congestion on Chastain Road and Barrett Parkway.
"The Big Shanty Connector is a great example of how we as a CID leveraged a small amount of resources to gain greater resources to make a bigger difference," Zimmerman said. "This was a project conceived by the CID, but it was designed and funded in a collaborative effort for the benefit of the community."
Cobb County and the Georgia Department of Transportation partnered with the TCACID to make the $26 million project a reality.
Another example of leveraging TCACID money to accomplish a greater goal is the Skip Spann Connector. The TCACID has invested $1.6 million of the $24 million funded for the new bridge over I-75 connecting Frey Road to Busbee Drive, just north of Chastain Road.
The project is expected to reduce daily traffic on Chastain Road and the I-75 interchange by 19 percent. “Since 1997, we have leveraged $30 million into $100 million worth of improvement projects,” Zimmerman said.
While those are big numbers, the state’s oldest CID has leveraged $100 million in investments into half a billion dollars in roads, transit, commuter services and more.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Cumberland CID is the state’s most successful.
“CIDs exist in six-year periods,” said Leithead. “No CID has ever gone out of business. Once people see the results that CIDs produce, they become eager to continue to make that investment.”
When asked what project over the last 25 years he is most proud of, Leithead doesn’t hesitate to respond: the Kennedy Interchange.
“The Kennedy Interchange opened massive development opportunities in the district, and it had a huge impact on the mobility and accessibility of the Cumberland/Galleria area,” he said. “Almost half of the $1 billion is the Kennedy Interchange and related projects.”
The Cumberland area has a huge economic impact, not only in Cobb County, but in Georgia as well. Its impact amounts to 5 percent of Georgia’s economy and 33 percent of Cobb County’s economy. There are 76,400 jobs in the greater Cumberland area, with 50,600 in the Cumberland CID. The area produces 164,800 total jobs around the state and $22.8 billion in output.
Authorized through 2018, the Cumberland CID has no plans to slow down. With 50 projects under way, rebuilding the Windy Hill intersection with I-75 is next on the Cumberland CID’s list.
“The intersection of 75 and Windy Hill was built 30 years ago when that area was essentially rural, and there was not a lot of traffic,” Leithead said. “This intersection desperately needs to be rebuilt to support the kind of traffic it’s supporting.”
Leithead hopes construction can start in a couple of years.