The Marietta City Council unanimously voted to place the bond package on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The only Marietta School Board member who opposes the bond is its most recently elected member, Ward 1’s Brett Bittner.
“I’ve not seen anything convincing about this proposal that would prompt me to vote for it in November,” Bittner said. “I do not think it is the proper role of government to use taxpayer funds to purchase property with the intent of demolishing it, rezoning and selling it at a loss to a developer or industrial company that has yet to materialize.”
He also believes the bond could essentially force low-income families out of the city school system.
“Essentially, the city is asking taxpayers to subsidize a business deal, while also removing some of Marietta’s most affordable housing options for residents and prospective residents,” he said.
Board Chairman Randy Weiner, Vice Chair Tom Cheater and members Jill Mutimer, Tony Fasola, Stuart Fleming and Irene Berens don’t feel the same way.
“We have maintained some students in our schools who previously lived in now-closed federal projects,” Weiner said. “They chose to (stay) in Marietta.”
Weiner, who serves Ward 3, has previously been outspoken in his approval of the bond.
“Franklin Road is one of the most undervalued and underutilized roads in Cobb County,” he said. “Based on the 2012 Tax Assessment, the 11 apartment complexes plus the one townhome and condominium complex brings in school tax revenue of $785,583.30, yet it costs a little more than $6 million — local expense of $5,454 per student — to educate the 1,100 students who live on Franklin Road.”
He and others on the board also believe that high concentrations of poverty only attract and breed more poverty.
Berens, the longest-serving board member who serves Ward 7, described Franklin Road as a “blighted area” with unsafe living conditions, high crime, drugs and transient issues.
“As long as we allow the poor housing conditions, we will continue to tolerate these issues,” she said.
She recommended providing any displaced families with options, like the city did when it closed its public housing.
Where will they go?
In response to the argument that tearing down their homes could push families out of the Marietta system, Berens said she hopes they will be able to find better housing in Marietta to provide their children with a more stable education.
“We can do better for our kids,” she said. “With the closing of the worst of the apartment complexes, some of those families may be able to move to better apartments, even if they stay in the Franklin Road area.”
Ward 6’s Cheater is worried about the number of students that live in that area.
“Increasing crime represents a destabilizing force for young families who want a safe and secure neighborhood to raise their children,” he said. “The proposed plan, while no guarantee for solving all the various issues along the Franklin Road corridor, is a logical move to jump-start improvements that will benefit both the city and county.”
Mutimer, who represents Ward 4, said she thinks this is an effort by the city to take action and to improve living conditions for residents in that area.
“There will still be affordable housing in the city of Marietta and it is an individual’s personal choice to determine where they live,” she said. “Furthermore, many residents on Franklin Road move in and out on their own, even without this effort.”
Mutimer said students in that area have about a 35 percent mobility rate.
Fasola in Ward 2 said he supports the bond “generally speaking” but is still doing some research on the specifics of the bond.
And those specifics are still changing. Even the amount of the bond is now up in the air. The City Council will meet Wednesday to discuss possibly increasing the bond proceeds to as high as $68 million.
“There is no doubt, in my mind, that something needs to be done on the Franklin corridor,” Fasola said. “That being said, it is my understanding that the remaining apartments, due to the occupancy rate, would be able to accommodate those persons, or families, that chose to still live in that area.”
Fleming, who represents Ward 5 but will be seeking a City Council seat in November, said he supports the idea that the government should, within reason, play an activist role in trying to make the community better.
“There are parts of every community in America that struggle to get by, and we need to develop sustainable, responsible and reasonable solutions,” he said. “We have a responsibility to assist these members of our society while also allowing them to determine their future based on hard work, education and sacrifice. Indeed, these ingredients have served as the basis for everyone who has come to this country since its inception.”
No concerns so far from Cobb Schools
One theory being discussed is that demolishing blighted apartments in the city could force economically disadvantaged students into Cobb Schools. But members of the county school board say they aren’t worried about that, and none of Marietta’s board members have heard from their county neighbors on the issue.
Weiner said it’d be hard to tell how many, if any, students would be absorbed into Cobb if this bond were to pass.
Chris Ragsdale, Cobb Schools’ deputy superintendent of operations, was asked by Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to respond on how the redevelopment of Franklin Road might affect the county school district if it is approved.
“Should apartments on Franklin Road close, it would be possible for some of those students to land in some of our surrounding schools, however, it is impossible to determine the exact effect and impact because you just can’t determine the number of students,” he said.
The schools that might be affected are Brumby, Harmony-Leland and Powers Ferry elementary schools, all of which are nearing capacity already, Ragsdale said.
Cobb School Board Chair Randy Scamihorn, who represents northwest Cobb, said regardless of passage, all children need a good education and he believes the county school system is big enough to handle additions.
“I don’t believe there will be that big of an influx, though,” he said.
He also reminisced on his first few years living in Cobb around the late 1970s when Franklin Road didn’t have the reputation it does today.
“It was a good place to be, had good businesses … I’m in favor of helping any part of the county that’s lagging behind, economically or for any other reason,” he said.
Vice Chair Brad Wheeler said he hasn’t thought that much about the bond and there haven’t been any conversations among board members about it.
“However, I would expect (Hinojosa and his staff) to do what we have to do to provide education for those students, but I’ve never thought about how it could affect us,” the west-central Cobb board member said.
Southeast Cobb’s Tim Stultz agreed with Wheeler.
“The district has a recent history of monitoring the effects of population moves due to the closing of housing units because of the recent purchases by the city of Smyrna,” he said. “I believe that experience will help the district prepare for any changes that would occur in the county schools due to the possible redevelopment in Marietta.”