Around Town: Vote to be close, but tax hike likely to pass
by Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney and Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
July 26, 2011 12:00 AM | 4973 views | 11 11 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
INFORMED COURTHOUSE SOURCES are speculating that today's high-profile vote on whether to raise Cobb property taxes by 17 percent will pass by a narrow 3-2 vote, with either northeast Cobb's JoAnn Birrell or southwest Cobb's Woody Thompson providing the crucial third vote.

Commission Chairman Tim Lee has been pushing hard for the increase. Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham has been publicly non-committal in recent days, but this spring surprised many conservative supporters by outspokenly favoring a tax increase to close the budget gap. Southeast Cobb's Bob Ott is the sole member of the board to publicly oppose it, saying the county has not done enough to cut spending.

Sources say phones at the commission offices were ringing off the hook in recent days on the matter, and that Cobb Chamber of Commerce officials were lobbying especially hard to get Birrell and or Thompson into the fold to support the tax. Birrell, who had the strong support of Lee and Chamber insiders during her election campaign last year, is said to be wary of the political fallout from supporting a tax hike. Thompson is thought to be leaning against the tax hike personally, but tells the MDJ that most of the 130 people who attended a town hall meeting he called on the subject in Austell on Wednesday favored the tax increase.

The two are said to have been barraged with calls from the likes of Chamber Chairman Rob Garcia, CEO David Connell, Chairman-elect Tony Britton, Council for Quality Growth President Michael E. Paris and Georgian Club President Jim Rhoden, who serves on the Cobb Citizen Oversight Committee charged with making county government more cost-effective. In fact Garcia, Connell and Paris called Thompson on Monday from Puerto Rico, where they were attending a meeting.

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SUPPORT FOR THE TAX HIKE might come back to bite Chairman Lee in next year's elections as well. Former Commission Chairman Bill Byrne, who wants his old job back, sharply criticized the proposed hike in a letter excerpted in Saturday's Around Town. That letter, which suggested using inmate labor to landscape local right of ways to save money, drew a letter late Monday to AT from Sheriff Neil Warren.

"It is important for everyone to understand that while there may be over 2,100 inmates in my custody, the vast majority are not available to work outside the confines of the facility," he said. "For example, on July 15, there were 529 inmates under sentence in my custody. Of those, 177 were awaiting transfer to the Georgia Department of Corrections and therefore generally not available for work detail. Forty-eight other inmates were too great of a security risk or had serious medical problems that prevented them from performing work assignments. The remaining 304 inmates (or less than 15 percent of the total jail population) were either on work release assignments or participating on County work details inside and outside the jail. ..." That's not to say that Warren has not been trying to cut costs.

"While the cost of housing inmates is significant, through the use of inmate labor we have eliminated in excess of $2 million a year in costs that would otherwise have been incurred to hire staff to perform these duties."

THE FIRST Judge Debra Halpern Bernes "Day at the Park" Fundraiser is planned Oct. 15 to raise money to fund perpetual endowment scholarships at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University schools of law in honor of late Georgia Appellate Judge Debra Halpern Bernes of east Cobb, who died last year of cancer at age 54.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens of Cobb are honorary co-chairs and Nancy Ingram Jordan and Scott Jacobson are event co-chairs.

"Debbie's passions were love of the law and helping others to succeed. The family is attempting to carry out her mission by rewarding the service of these future lawyers as a lasting tribute to her life," said husband Gary Bernes.

The fundraiser will be from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. and feature BBQ, live music from "Bert Reeves and His Band" at East Cobb Park on Roswell Road. Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $10 for children and all donations are tax-deductible. Guests should RSVP to Sheri Kell at skell@comm-360.com. Additional information can be found at www.judgebernes.org.

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"DEEP, DARK SECRET CHOCOLATE CAKE." "German Chocolate Angel Pie." Getting hungry? Marietta Kiwanis Club members with a sweet tooth will be in heaven Thursday, when rather than having a speaker for their lunchtime meeting, they'll host a live auction of dessert items and silent auction of desserts as well. Bake sales are a mainstay fundraising tool used by many groups, but this will be a bake sale on steroids, with proceeds used to help fund the club's year-end donations to local charities.

The club will hold a live auction to sell off favorite desserts offered by six of its senior-most members and officers, according to auction chairwoman Beth Eckford of the club. On tap are "Davis Walker's Deep Dark Secret Chocolate Cake," baked by his niece Tricia Wilson; "E.W. Chastain's Favorite Coconut Cake," as baked by club member Gail Downing; club President Mike Hebdon's butter creams, (his mother's recipe, prepared by his whole family); "Liz Owens' Beer Cake" (prepared by Ms. Owens herself); Pat Huey's Favorite German Chocolate Cake" (prepared by Ms. Downing); and "Fran's Fudge" as chosen by Bill Kinney and prepared by Fran Kirby.

Silent auction items will include "Reece's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake" from Earl and Terri Reece, carrot cake from Barbara Hickey, rum cake from Scott Chadwick, a "bite-size decadent dessert tray" from Adriane Larson, breakfast muffins by Rosann Hall, German chocolate angel pie by Patty Kendrick, pecan pie from Ed Hammock, peach cobbler by Edith Boy and brownies by Sally Macauley. Auctioneer will be club member Shelby Robert,.

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SENIOR Cobb Superior Court Judge Grant Brantley has been elected to the national board of directors for the National Association of Court Managers, the first judicial director in the group's history, according to past president Skip Chesshire of Cobb. The NACM is the largest organization of court management professionals in the world. His election took place at a conference of NACM and National Association of State Judicial Educators at which retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke.

DEBATE OVER TODAY'S TAX HIKE proposal revolves over whether to keep the county's service level as-is or cut it. But it's usually easier to persuade the public to raise taxes if officials can target a specific use or need for the new tax. That was certainly the case in Cobb in the summer of 1940.

An MDJ editor going back through old copies of the MDJ this past weekend happened onto the June 26, 1940 edition of the newspaper, which bore a startling headline atop Page 1: "Half Mill Levy To Finance County Veneral (sic) Disease War Proposed." That headline (even without the misspelling) would prompt double-takes today and probably prompted triple takes back then.

It seems The Progressive Mens Club of Powder Springs had passed a resolution to that effect and sent it to County Commissioner C.M. Head (Cobb had a sole-commissioner form of government back then).

Said the resolution, in part, "Syphilis and tuberculosis are expensive to the taxpayers because many of their victims become public charges."

The Cobb grand jury picked up the ball, with the July 16 Marietta Journal trumpeting, "Grand Jury Informed of Movement to Curb Venereal Disease Spread." Cobb Superior Court Judge Harold Hawkins told the jury there had been 800 cases of venereal diseases in the county. (He also told the jury, in an unrelated matter, that many of the driveways along Cobb Parkway, then under construction, were often blocked by motorists "who are parked for immoral purposes.")

The newspaper then reported July 25 that the grand jury had recommended the county raise taxes by one-half mill to fund its fight against "appalling and dangerous" communicable and venereal diseases, with the money to be used to help pay for the hiring of a trio of public-health nurses.

"In view of the fact that we feel it imperative to make funds available to fight T.B. and syphilis, especially syphilis, we recommend without reservation an additional one-half mill to be levied by the board of commissioners for this purpose," read the jury presentments.

Serving as foreman of the jury was Marietta Journal publisher W.L. Harris, with lumber company executive W.L. Tumlin (uncle of current Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin) as clerk. Other members of the 23-person jury included those with such familiar Cobb names as Pitner, Petree, Mabry, Manning, Blair, Brantley and Moore.

So how much did that half-mill tax levy bring the county? A whopping $3,000 - a microscopic fraction of what it would bring in today, when a 1 mill increase translates to about $23 million, according to county finance director Jim Pehrson. Looked at another way, today's $23 million would have been enough to fund the county operations perhaps a hundred times over.
Comments
(11)
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Bob R
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July 27, 2011
My tax increase will be doubled because I will also give that amount to Byrne's campaign!
web_supergirl
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July 27, 2011
I concur with everything said here.

I can't believe 3 people have so much power. THAT should be change #1.

Raise taxes in this economic environment? It's an outrage.

Property owners already carry the weight, pick on someone else? Cut out the government trips for starters.
OnceAgain
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July 27, 2011
Too all that accuse of "big spending": Prove it. All you do is accuse without one shred of real evidence supporting "big spending." No one's giving out welfare or healthcare here. Get real. This is local county government trying to make the County a better place to be.

Stop using talking points. Let's see you get into the budget like a public administrator does and shoot down the justifications to spend, line item extravagances, and so on. Let's see the evidence.

The rate increase is the correct thing to do in this case.
Indian Joe
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July 26, 2011
Not much different than Marietta Power- they put in water conservation, then because usage is down they increase the rates. If you went over their magical number you would pay a fine - win-win for govenrment - no wayout for taxpayers/customers. And believe me, if the economy somehow comes back, and tax collections increase, this millage increase will stay, and probably get biggr since they will have to pay for all of the new projects - like putting brick sidewalks and very expensive light fixtures on that terrible excuse for a main road, Powder Springs. Anyone happen to notice who uses the sidewalks? Wonder how much they are contributing to the cofers???
sad to say
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July 26, 2011
I don't want Lee or any of those who vote for a property tax increase to EVER again say they are fiscal conservatives because they are not. You don't raise taxes in this economic environment and then call yourself a fiscal conservative. Just admit what you are....a big spender...someone who'd rather raise taxes than do the hard work of doing more with less. If you can't get the job done resign and let someone else do it. And, this goes for the other big spenders on the commission, as well.
Kennesaw Voter
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July 26, 2011
Tim Lee and Helen Gorham will both be voted out of office...BIG SPENDING is O-U-T in Cobb. We are all sick of the tax and spend going on at all levels of government.
meeting
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July 26, 2011
Have to go all the way to Puerto Rico for a meeting?

Isn't the Chamber in support of "stay local, shop local."
WestCobbEastCobb
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July 26, 2011
When times were good you told us we have to raise our taxes and add employees to pay for all the growth. When times are bad you tell us WE can't pay ours bills so we need to raise your taxes. Over the last ten years Cobb County has become the largest employer. That does not compute.

Simple: Cut the FAT...or you and 10% of the high paid employees will be cut. And by the way when you say you can't cut anymore cut some more. Ladies and Gentlemen is not easy but let's be brave and do the right thing!
rjsnh
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July 26, 2011
Woody Thompson was defeated when he ran as a Democrat and if he votes to raise property taxes we will work to make him a two party loser. He won't be viewed as a Democrat or Republican...his label will be BIG SPENDER,
outraged resident
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July 26, 2011
I plan to give Lee's opponent, whoever it is, a contribution that equals my property tax increase. Lee is proving he is incompetent to lead and a classic big spender whose appetite for tax revenue makes unfit to serve as chairman. The same goes for the rest of those that follow him in raising property taxes.
anonymous
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July 26, 2011
To say that I am disappointed in the Republican leadership in Cobb County is an understatement. Where are your principles, people? We voted you in, we can vote you out. You had a great time riding the anti-Obama Republican wave in 2010- there will be a backlash against you in 2012 and again in 2014.

You are doing great harm to taxpayer and GOP alike.
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