Chairman Tim Lee, northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham and southwest Cobb Commissioner Woody Thompson were in the majority, with southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott and northeast Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell dissenting. While there was no change in the rate Tuesday night, the board approved a 15.7 percent millage rate increase by the same vote in 2011.
“I couldn’t justify voting to keep it the same if I didn’t vote to raise it last year,” Birrell said.
Lee pointed to Cobb’s AAA bond rating with all three major credit rating agencies as a reason why it is important to keep the rate the same. The rating allows the county to borrow money at low interest rates, which Lee said is needed because Cobb must borrow money at the beginning of the fiscal year because it collects property taxes at the end of the fiscal year.
“We have reduced the size of government, we have placed money in reserves to help us in these uncertain times,” Lee said after the two-hour meeting. “We have added police and fire personnel to help enhance our public safety and we have a triple-AAA bond rating that says our budgeting philosophy is very stable and sustainable, therefore it required the millage rate remain the same.”
Birrell was hopeful that the recently created audit committee will be able to find more spending efficiencies, which could allow for the county to keep a lower tax rate.
“Last year, we were facing a $30 million-plus shortfall, and we continued to make reductions,” she said. “We’re just not where we need to be.”
The property tax rate will remain 7.72 mills for general fund, 3.06 mills for fire fund and 0.33 mills for debt service.
A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value.
While the county’s tax digest for 2012 was $29 billion, down 2.3 percent from the 2011 digest of $29.71 billion, the digest decreased less than it has in recent years. Next year, Lee expects the tax digest, the value of all real and personal property and registered vehicles in the county, to remain flat.
After several speakers talked of concerns of the values of their condominiums during a public hearing, commissioners unanimously approved a number of code amendments, including one that specifies what must happen in order for condo owners to more easily lease their units as apartments as part of a zoning change.
While staff had recommended allowing condo owners to rent up to 25 percent of the units, commissioners set the maximum at 10 percent. Condos can seek a larger number on a case-by-case basis, but the change would have to go through the planning commission and Board of Commissioners.
Community Development Director Rob Hosack said the initial idea for changing the urban condominium zoning designation came from his staff and wasn’t put on the agenda by commissioners.
“The resolution tonight improved the code as it was, because there was no limitation (on the number of apartments that could be leased),” Lee said. “This limits it at 10 and put those folks who want to move forward a mechanism for moving forward and also protects the community.”
Ron Sifen of Vinings was among those to speak against liberalizing the percentage of condominiums that can be devoted to apartments.
“There’s plenty of zoning districts that allow apartments,” Sifen said. “The intent of urban condominium is not to allow apartments. It is a zoning district that is explicitly … for owner-occupied communities.”
Ott also disagreed with the other commissioners on approving an environmental impact study to assess the impact of what mode of public transit is recommended in the Northwest Atlanta Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study. Commissioners approved a $3 million contract for the environmental study with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., in a 4-1 vote, even though the county hasn’t said exactly what it will be studying the impact of or where. It will be paid for with 80 percent federal funds, with the remainder coming from 2011 SPLOST sales tax revenue.
The contract was approved even though the results of the Alternatives Analysis, which cost an additional $1.9 million, have yet to be announced. The county is expected to release the results of the study, including a route and mode of transit, such as light rail or bus rapid transit, in the coming weeks.
Ott said he opposed spending money on the study because the county doesn’t yet know what effect planned managed toll lanes on Interstates 75 and 575 will have on the corridor’s transportation needs. Lee responded that the managed lanes were being taken into account in the Alternatives Analysis study.
In other action, commissioners:
* Unanimously approved an $8 million contract with Baldwin Paving Company Inc. of Marietta for resurfacing streets across the county. The state’s Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant program will pay for $3.1 million of the project, with the 2011 SPLOST picking up the remaining $4.9 million. C.W. Matthews Contracting Company Inc. of Marietta had the second lowest bid at $8.2 million, with Stewart Brothers Inc. of Atlanta bidding third at $10.7 million.
* Unanimously approved contracts for renovations at the Cobb Animal Control facility. J.L. Brooks Construction of Powder Springs had the low bid of $36,452 for ceiling grid renovations, while Acousti Interior Contractors Inc. of Marietta bid $40,087 and Martin General Contracting Inc. of Dallas bid $40,793. On sprinkler renovations, Cliff’s Fire Extinguisher Co. Inc. of Woodstock bid $11,440, Delta Fire Protection Systems Inc. of Tucker bid $18,900 and Alliance Fire Protection Services Inc. of Loganville bid $27,069. The renovations are being paid with 2011 SPLOST funds.
* Unanimously appointed IT systems engineer Derrick Crump of west Cobb, who was nominated by Commissioner Woody Thompson, to fill a vacancy on the Keep Cobb Beautiful board.
* Unanimously approved the Vinings Vision plan and added its results to the county’s comprehensive plan.
* Unanimously approved the abandonment of Fairview Drive off Canton Road south of Piedmont Road after the county determined that the right-of-way serves no substantial public purpose.