Tumlin has given only a broad outline of his plan to date, saying he wants to allow council members and the public to help shape the proposal. But at first glance, most council members are greeting the idea with enthusiasm.
Councilman Grif Chalfant said he’s too short on information to say he’s for it at this point. But, “in general, I’d love to see Franklin Road taken care of, I’d love to be able to buy 13 apartment complexes and get rid of all of them to improve the school system like they want. I just got to see all the numbers,” Chalfant said.
A majority of Mariettans have shown time and again that they will raise their taxes to pay for a project if they believe it benefits their community, whether that is for parks, a high school auditorium or paying off school system debt.
“I think they’ve got a larger interest at heart and that’s taking care of the city as a whole and willing to put up their money to stand behind that,” Chalfant said of that practice.
Jump all the way in or not at all As for how this proposed bond would improve the city, Chalfant said he needs to know more.
“We all say it has the ability to do a lot of good,” Chalfant said. “I want to see how much. We paid $2 million for an apartment complex in the midst of the depression. How much good can we do for $35 million? If it’s only five apartment complexes, I don’t know whether it’s worth that to do just a few of them. There’s 13 of them over there.”
If the city is serious about redeveloping Franklin Road, it can’t sprinkle a few dollars here and there because it would simply get lost in the blight, he said. The city must take a large swath of the area.
Councilman Andy Morris said he believes the bond passage would benefit the city and its schools.
“We’ve always thought revitalizing Franklin Road is a big key to the city and the school board,” Morris said.
Councilwoman Annette Lewis said she would probably look favorably on the proposal.
“We have known for some time that some of the areas within the city, and especially if you’re looking within the needs around Franklin Road, the city on its own cannot do it,” Lewis said.
The problem of Franklin Road is not something that just happened five or 10 years ago, she said.
“This has been an ongoing problem from the school system side of it to police, fire. We have particular areas in the city that are a massive drain on resources, and the only way you can address those is to revitalize neighborhoods,” she said.
Exactly how the plan is shaped will determine whether she supports it, Lewis said.
“I don’t like things added in or ‘let’s include this over here just because we can get these votes,’ and you’re going, ‘you don’t need that over there, you need that over here so everyone benefits,’” she said. “You know my thing of ‘your ward doesn’t exist without the city and the city can’t exist without the ward,’ so you have to do what’s best for the city.”
Debt-free school system
Tumlin said he brought the issue forward because residents just approved the special purpose local option sales tax for education, which will allow Marietta City Schools to become debt free.
Marietta Board of Education Chairman Randy Weiner, an enthusiastic supporter of Tumlin’s plan, said the SPLOST will eliminate the school system’s 1.187 millage rate by August 2014, at which time the system would be debt free.
Councilman Anthony Coleman said he wants the voters to decide whether to support the bond or not.
“I think they should have the right to vote on it and make the decision,” Coleman said.
Councilman Philip Goldstein is playing his cards close. All he would say is that he plans on listening to the proposal tonight.
Councilman Johnny Sinclair could not be reached by press time.
Councilman Jim King said he’s eager to dig into the details to see how the plan would benefit the city.
“I think it’s possible that the bulk of Marietta would think it’s a favorable thing. It’s possible,” King said. “The couple of people I’ve talked to about it weren’t initially all that enamored by it, but when I let them keep talking, they kind of talked themselves into it.”
King likes the idea of purchasing a number of the aging Franklin Road apartment complexes that go in and out of foreclosure, leveling them, and preparing the site for new development.
“If for no other reasons than based on the transitory nature of the school kids that come from there, and the high number of police calls into the area, the answer is yes,” King said.
Tumlin’s proposal is no mere cosmetic investment to make a nice boulevard, which is something the city has already done through its SPLOST program anyway, King said.
“It really does go to the core of being able to change an area, and then you get back to the fundamental question, should a governmental body be involved in speculative real estate deals, because that’s what it boils down to.”
King said his initial reaction is, no, a government should not be involved in real estate speculation, and that such risks should only be taken by private investors.
But the potential payoff has King and others reassessing their ideas of what government is capable of doing, and what it should be doing.
“But there are no absolute, yes or no answers in this complicated business that we call public life,” he said. “My first instinct is to say, no, we shouldn’t be, but step back and look at the benefit and say, well, is there anyone else on the horizon that could possibly do it? I can’t give you a yes/no answer. At this point it does not appear to be. We’ve had no shining knight in white armor appear on the horizon to do this, right?”
The council’s series of committee meetings begins at 5:15 p.m. in the council chamber of city hall, at 205 Lawrence St. in Marietta.