County Manager David Hankerson’s executive assistant, Judy Skeel, made the request during a breakfast between county commissioners and the Cobb legislative delegation on Friday at the Safety Village.
Skeel made the presentation at the request of Hankerson. The agenda for the breakfast is set by county chairman Tim Lee.
“In these economic times, we’re trying to reduce our reliance on property taxes and diversify our revenue stream,” Skeel said. “It’s actually more of a user fee since the only people that would be paying it are the people that purchase alcohol.”
The request would increase the beer excise tax from $.00417 per ounce to $.006255 per ounce; wine from 22 cents per liter to 33 cents per liter; and liquor from 22 cents per liter to 33 cents per liter.
“It’s something that hasn’t been looked at in a number of years in terms of keeping up with cost of administration and inflation, and I just think it’s something as we look at diversifying our revenue sources that that’s one way we need the legislators help on,” Lee said.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell) asked how much the tax currently collects.
For fiscal year 2012, the county government collected $4.6 million: $3.4 million from the beer tax, $804,912 for the wine tax and $365,083 for liquor, county spokesman Robert Quigley said.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) said he did not support raising the tax.
“That’s not going anywhere,” he said.
Skeel also asked lawmakers to allow the county to impose a $5 to $15 fee on convicted cases to pay for technology expenses for the court system.
“We’ve been deferring over $5 million worth of technology-related projects since 2008 because the revenue just hasn’t been there,” Skeel said. “We’ve looked at raising fees county-wide and would like to have the ability to impose a court technology fee for all criminal cases processed by our courts.”
The revenue would go to fund hardware, software and other technology-related expenses for the court system, she said.
Imposing a $5 fee is anticipated to generate between $900,000 and $1.1 million.
Ehrhart said he would examine the proposal more closely.
“That has some possibilities. You know, it is a user fee for those who are convicted of crimes,” Ehrhart said.
Unlike the Marietta City Council, which takes a formal vote to adopt its legislative priorities, the Board of Commissioners did not take such a vote, Commissioner Helen Goreham said. At the same time, Goreham said she liked the two proposals.
“The one for the courts, as I understood it, that would be a fee in criminal cases that would only be levied if the individual was convicted of a crime,” Goreham said. “As far as the alcohol beverage tax, I would have to look at it. I think we are not in line with most states as far as that tax, and in these days where we’re looking again for additional revenue, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to make us comparable to other jurisdictions in that area.”
Hankerson’s assistant wasn’t alone in asking for funding at the breakfast.
Dr. Jack Kennedy, district health director for Cobb & Douglas Public Health, pointed out that public health infrastructure is in trouble. Georgia’s population has grown by more than 18 percent since 2000 yet funding for public health has been cut by more than 20 percent, he said.
“Georgia spends about four cents per person per day for public health in the state, which is just about the lowest contribution of any state in the entire country,” Kennedy said, noting the average salary for a public health staff nurse is $37,000, compared to the market rate of $61,000.
Kennedy requested that Georgia’s cigarette tax be increased by $1 per pack to $1.37.
Dr. Dan Stephens, chair of the Cobb Public Health Board of Directors, said Cobb County is funded on a 1970 Census count.
“For our legislators I have a deal for you: You don’t have to appropriate any money. You don’t have to spend any money. But you can help us tremendously if we can just get the budget funded based on the 2010 population, not the ’70,” he said.
Per capita spending in Cobb County for mental health and for the Board of Health is the lowest of any county in the state of Georgia, he said.
Lee, who serves on the health board by virtue of his office, supports the request to use 2010 census data.
“If you assume that there is a percentage of every society that gets treated through public health, as our population has grown so has that number of people in Cobb County that have to utilize public health for services,” Lee said.
Ehrhart said the trouble is the state has a budget hole to fill.
“I understand Dan’s passion for that. They’re going to have to make do with that they have,” Ehrhart said.
Morgan said when people are out of work as many are today they rely on public health services.
“And the fact that we’re funding at a 1970 level should be unacceptable. I wasn’t even born in 1970, so it’s hard to imagine we’re still funding at that level and it should be unacceptable,” Morgan said. “Obviously we need to understand that when you don’t have money you can’t address every problem that we have, but I do think that that needs to be seriously looked at.”