Around Town: Mayor is selling $35 million bond, but is council buying?
by Lee B. Garrett, Joe Kirby & Otis A. Brumby III
April 06, 2013 12:00 AM | 3534 views | 6 6 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILL MARIETTA Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin be able to persuade city voters to approve a $35 million bond to buy up decrepit apartments along Franklin Road and sell the land for redevelopment? And more to the point, will he be able to sell the city council on the idea? It won’t go anywhere unless he can first persuade the council to call a referendum to put it before the voters.

Tumlin’s bond would mean a 2-mill property tax increase, which would translate to an extra $160 per year on a home with an assessed value of $200,000 and would take 20 years to pay off.

Franklin Road parallels Interstate 75 and is lined with a dozen or so 1970s-vintage garden apartments that were nice when new and were full of young professionals. They’re now neither new nor quite so nice, and are home to those much lower on the economic scale.

Those 3,000 apartment units have high transience rates, and the corridor has long produced a disproportionate share of the city’s crime. According to stats compiled by the federally funded Weed and Seed anti-crime program, the corridor has typically been responsible for more than a quarter of the city’s rapes, robberies, burglaries, auto thefts and assaults each year in recent years. In 2012 for example, there were 320 reported larcenies there, 122 burglaries, 64 auto thefts, 62 robberies, 43 assaults and four forcible rapes.

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THE FRANKLIN CORRIDOR was swept into the city during its annexation craze of the 1970s and early ’80s. City leaders were eager to grow their tax base by taking in commercial properties and high-density residential, which typically costs lest in terms of providing municipal services and schools than does single-family homes. They also gobbled up much of the land along and east of Cobb Parkway. But their policy was undermined in the wake of court decisions in the 1980s that eventually ended the era of “adults-only” apartment complexes.

The Franklin Road complexes now are home to 1,092 students in the Marietta School District, about an eighth of its overall census, according to Schools spokesman Thomas Algarin. The high transience rates and low parental involvement associated with many of those students is a huge burden on the system and a drag on the graduation rate. There are 198 students from the corridor at Marietta High and 150 and Marietta Middle School, plus 356 at Park Street Elementary, 184 at Lockheed Elementary and others scattered at six other city schools, including 14 at the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics.

THE MAYOR REPORTEDLY was first “sold” on the bond by School Board Chairman Randy Weiner and notes that the recent passage by voters of the 1 percent Ed-SPLOST for local schools includes funding to wipe out the 1.87 mills worth of bonded indebtedness the city now owes. Tumlin argues that means that passage of his proposed bond issue would essentially be “a wash” in terms of its pocketbook impact on taxpayers.

But will it fly with the taxpayers — and first with the council? Most council comments thus far have been favorable, but cautious. It is election year in Marietta, after all.

And now two of Tumlin’s strongest allies, Ward 2 Councilman Grif Chalfant and Ward 4’s Andy Morris, are said to be waffling, saying privately that is “too much, too fast” and needs more groundwork. And Jim King of Ward 6 said at the Marietta 28 Council meeting that he felt “rushed.”

“I’m not sure what we’re signing up for,” he said.

The council will have to act by August in order to get it on the November ballot, and the proposal likely will have to transit the council’s labyrinthine committee system stage-managed by Ward 7 Councilman Philip Goldstein, which as longtime City Hall watchers know, “is where good ideas go to die.”

As for the mayor’s announced opponent this fall, Democrat Charles Levinson, he says the bond is a bad idea.

“This anti-apartment craze may have something to do with the voting preferences of apartment dwellers,” Levinson told Around Town. “Perhaps Thunder feels that there are still too many Democrats living on Franklin, gerrymandered wards notwithstanding.”

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MANY OF THE STRONGEST supporters of the proposal are parents of school age children concerned about the crime and transiency of blighted properties. There also is positive chatter among local business owners who in recent years have been concerned about the shrinking numbers of middle-class families (aka customers) in the city limits.

The city’s “Franklin Road experiment” is a poster example of how when one or two apartment complexes start to go bad, they can quickly drag down their neighbors.

Politicians have been promising since the late 1980s to do something about Franklin Road, but Tumlin’s plan is the first one with a chance to make a real difference. It’s a bold proposal to address a problem that will only keep getting worse if we don’t act now.

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DENTIST Dr. Paul Gilreath IV plans to run for the Ward 5 seat on the Marietta School Board in this fall’s city elections. Stuart Fleming, the incumbent in that ward, no longer lives in the ward in the wake of the recent city redistricting and is not expected to run. Gilreath is a native Mariettan, a 1979 graduate of Marietta High and managing partner at Gilreath Family Dentistry in Marietta. He and his wife, Channie, live in Blair Valley off Cherokee Street and their children, Quint and Birdie, attend the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics.

“With two young children in 3rd and 5th grades, I have a vested interest in the success of the school system,” he told Around Town. “Also, I want to make sure we continue to be good stewards of our tax dollars while providing an excellent environment for our children to thrive throughout their K-12 years.”

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DISTRICT Attorney Vic Reynolds will hold an open house from 1-3 p.m. April 26 on the third floor of the new Cobb Superior Court Building. The event will be preceded by the 2013 Crime Victims’ Rights and Sexual Assault Awareness Vigil at noon in Building A.

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WHILE MUCH of the local coverage of the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has focused on the two candidates already in the race — U.S. Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) and Paul Broun (R-Athens), plus the possibility that Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) might join them — don’t discount Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah). Sources close to his campaign say his first-quarter financial disclosure report (due April 15) will “turn heads and open eyes.”

Kingston is the most senior Republican in the Georgia delegation and chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

His challenge is how to win a primary in which 80 percent of the votes come from north of the “Gnat Line” and he comes from south of it.

Kingston’s goal is to lock down south Georgia and be competitive enough in the metro Atlanta area to win a place in any runoff. He’s likely to spend so much time working the metro area that he’s a “ghost” in his own district in the next year, some observers say.

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THIS WEEK’S HIRING of former Commissioner Thea Powell by Southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott as his executive assistant probably caused some private groans at the Commissioners Building on Marietta Square due to her well-founded reputation for speaking her mind and criticizing county government. But by the same token, it probably had most of her fellow members of the Cobb Development Authority popping champagne corks. If anything, she’s been harsher in her comments about the CDA than she has about Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee.

Lee probably isn’t happy to have Powell right down the hall, but can take solace in the fact that he now gets to appoint someone he hopes is more malleable to the Authority.

Each of the five commissioners has one full-time assistant. Ott is the only one of the commissioners with a full-time day job — as a pilot for Delta, usually flying to Europe and South America. His job often has him away from the Square for days or weeks at a stretch. So Powell is expected to play an invaluable role as his eyes and ears while away — and can be expected to work overtime to try and keep the other four commissioners from trying to slip anything by while he’s gone.

Comments
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Sell then Buy
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April 07, 2013
If you sell all our other blight holdings, like the one by the Conference Center (Baltic), or perhaps the Conference Center itself (Mediterranean), then sure, use the proceeds to buy some more blight on Franklin Rd (Oriental Ave, perhaps?). If we don't have the cash sitting around, I think we are holding enough low end rents.

We have an Electric Company and Water Works in hand. How about we buy a railroad now, slap commuter trains to downtown ATL on its tracks, charge ourselves $5 roundtrips, but charge Smyrna & Vinings residents $15 each way?
Ward 5 supporter
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April 06, 2013
Way to jump in there Paul! You've got our support and would be a great addition to the school board.
What next??
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April 06, 2013
The City should absolutely not buy up those buildings! And by the way, why doesn't someone in the City Gov. do something about making the slum lord who owns the old (A & P) strip center on Whitlock either tear it down or fix it up! A lot of us are sick of looking at it!!
property rights?
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April 07, 2013
Have you ever heard of property rights? When we voted to tear down the houses and build a shopping center, we voted to have a blighted shopping center in 10 to 15 years, just like West Cobb is voting upon itself right now.

Talk about bad properties, though, what about the one with Michael's liquor store? The 4 foot square columns on the curb killed off all the customers. If you set foot in the place, you set foot blindly into the parking lot drive as you leave!
Ward 5 resident
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April 06, 2013
I was glad to read Dr. Gilreath is running for our Ward 5 seat on the School Board. My daughter is a patient of his and have heard many great things about him. I plan to vote in favor of him in November.
Davis McCollum
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April 08, 2013
If Paul Gilreath gives 1/8 as much of his time and talents to the board as he does patients/clients... he will make a GREAT addition from Ward 5. Good luck Doc Paul.
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