MARIETTA - Cobb County is considering a plan to buy up aging apartment complexes along Six Flags Drive for the same reason the city of Marietta is buying them along Franklin Road - to redevelop an area considered blighted and crime-ridden.
But instead of running the plan through the elected Board of Commissioners, it would be done through the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority.
"We're in high-level conversations about it," county Chairman Tim Lee told the Marietta Daily Journal. "I've talked to (the authority) about the possibility of doing that, but we've got to identify the funding source for it, but that's as far as it's gotten."
Lee said the authority is doing "reconnaissance" to see how much it would cost to do a "public-private partnership" for redeveloping the Six Flags Drive corridor.
Marietta residents in November voted to raise their property taxes to fund a $68 million bond issuance, the proceeds of which will be used to purchase apartment complexes on Franklin Road, raze them, and sell the land to developers. The bond could increase property taxes by up to 2 mills, which would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $160 per year and a $400,000 home about $320 per year.
"The difference is here you've got the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority that more or less is taking the lead, and we're supporting them, but with Mayor Thunder, the city took the lead," Lee said. "They didn't have a development authority take the lead on this."
Lee said the county's recent hiring of Sabrina Young of Acworth as an economic development coordinator will help the authority move forward in its redevelopment efforts along Six Flags Drive, as well as other plans under consideration such as forming a tax-allocation district there and creating a marketing program to change public perception about the south Cobb community, which has a reputation for high crime.
County Manager David Hankerson hired Young in October at an annual salary of $54,500. Young was a probation officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections before the city of Marietta hired her in 2008 as an economic development project manager.
The request to help the authority's board with its staffing needs was made by board member Ford Thigpen, president of Hiram-based Westside Bank, who chaired the authority last year. In a June 2013 letter to Lee, Thigpen wrote that since its inception in 2011, the authority was assigned to the county's economic development office, which is managed by Michael Hughes.
Thigpen wrote in April 2012 the county pledged to fill a vacant position in its economic development office to help with the authority's work.
Yet Thigpen complained in his June letter about the way Hughes advertised for the position, saying the position as advertised focused more on the needs of Hughes's office rather than that of the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority.
Lee said part of the problem with taking so long to fill the job was cost.
"We thought we had the right person from the outside in more of an economic development-type role," Lee said. "They're just too expensive. The going rate for someone who does everything is beyond what we could budget."
Thigpen went on to ask Lee in his letter that when the county did hire a staffer assigned to the authority it be under the community development department managed by Rob Hosack.
Hankerson agreed with Thigpen's request and hired Young, who was ordered to report to Hosack's department rather than Hughes' office.
Hosack's community development department has a budget of $794,827 with 12 full-time staff. One of those staffers - Young - is now paid for out of the county's economic development budget.
The economic development office has three full-time staff and a budget of $334,282, county spokesman Robert Quigley said.
Lee said he originally thought a staffer who specialized in economic development was needed to assist the authority, but he came to believe a planning specialist was needed first.
"As the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority got into what their goals are for the upcoming years, they found that they needed someone with a little more planning experience than economic development per se," Lee said. "They'll bring in the economic development when they need it, but they needed someone with the planning component, so that's why he made the request, and that's why (Hankerson) honored the request."
Requests for money
Thigpen also requested start-up capital to help the authority carry out its mission of redeveloping south Cobb. One source of requested funding was the remainder of a south Cobb grant provided by the state Department of Community Affairs.
Dana Johnson, county planning manager, said $212,247 remains left of that grant.
"Second, we request that annual funding for the authority be provided until we are in a position to earn enough income to support our operations, as is the case with mature development authorities in Cobb County and elsewhere," Thigpen wrote. "We would require a yearly allocation of $100,000 until we have generated sufficient revenue on our own."
Lee said the county granted the authority access to the grant money, but rather than give it an annual $100,000 stipend, it must ask for funding on a case-by-case basis.
"We didn't give them $100,000 and say, 'Go spend it,' we said, 'We'll work with you as you go forward and have needs,'" Lee said.
Lee said the seven-member authority was re-chartered by the Legislature in 2011 to serve a larger geographical area. The authority is chaired by Ed Richardson, president of Richardson Management Group, an IT consultant.
"The hiring of the staff has helped significantly in being able to move a lot of the planning mechanisms forward, move them along faster, so up to this point they are more or less in the organization phase now, they're bringing the planning to fruition and up to a recommendation stage, and once they bring the recommendation stage, then we'll talk about implementation, which I really expect to happen later this year," Lee said.