Commissioners take up code amendments at the beginning of each year. The new tax districts will be approved as part of the county code rather than through legislation by state lawmakers, Chairman Tim Lee said.
Since commissioners have already approved a memorandum of understanding with the Braves in November, Lee said it’s not a question of whether the districts will be approved, but how.
“It’s more or less a discussion of what the boundaries are: which should be in and out, more so than whether or not we’re going to do it or not,” he said. “We did the MOU, and in the MOU, we set forward some agreements that we need to do and procedurally it requires a vote, and in some of those votes per our code require a public hearing just to make sure we’re following the opening processes of what we’re doing, who’s getting assessed and how we’re doing it, so basically we’re making sure that everyone is in agreement in how we’re doing it as opposed to what we’re doing.”
One tax district to be created will roughly follow the boundaries of the 5.5-square-mile Cumberland Community Improvement District. The new district would tax commercial property owners and apartment complex owners an additional 3 mills, bringing in $5.2 million a year. Lee said the code will be written to lock in the $5.2 million sum, meaning if 2 mills eventually generates $5.2 million, the new district would only be taxed 2 mills.
“The idea is not to develop this big pot of money just to hold onto,” Lee said. “The idea is just to pay the debt, so whatever is needed is what will happen.”
Nightly $3 hotel room feesfuels
A second code change commissioners are expected to approve, is charging hotels and motels in the new district a fee of $3 a room per night. The $3 fee would generate $2.7 million annually.
A third code change is enacting a county-wide 3 percent rental car tax expected to collect $400,000 annually.
Lee has said he’s heard critics, like former county Chairman Bill Byrne, claim commissioners need the Legislature to authorize the new tax districts, but county attorneys have assured him commissioners have the power to do it on their own.
“We’ve had that conversation,” Lee said.
The plan is for the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority to issue $368 million in revenue bonds to be paid off over 30 years.
Annual debt service based on current market conditions is about $24 million. Of the $24 million annual payment, the Braves would pay $6.1 million and the county would pay $17.9 million.
Lee doesn’t anticipate the Exhibit Hall Authority will issue the bonds until 2015.
“We’re still working through cash-flow analysis, but the first money that’s going to be expended is the Braves’ contribution, so it will probably be 2015 sometime,” Lee said. “The later we do the bonds, the better. It’s just like taking on a mortgage, the sooner you take on a mortgage, the sooner you got to pay it back.”
Of the $672 million cost of the stadium, the Braves are paying $372 million. Approving the new tax districts and auto rental tax will help the county make the debt payments on its $300 million share of the debt.
“They’re an important first step towards moving forward on the project to set up the mechanism to make the Braves happen, so it’s executing what was agreed to in the MOU,” Lee said.
Where’s the communication?
Lee was absent from Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, where Ben Williams of Mableton, president of the Cobb branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, asked why commissioners had not responded to a request for information about the Braves project. Williams is part of a coalition of conservative and liberal organizations called Citizens for Government Transparency, which delivered a letter Dec. 17 asking a list of questions about the project.
“As I stand before you today, we have heard nothing from our commission and that is a matter of concern,” Williams said. “We know that there are some differences of opinion, but in my wildest of imagination I never believed that would shut down respectful communication, so the question that I pose is are we still being treated fairly and is it reasonable for us to expect a response from the commissioners?”
Lee told the MDJ on Tuesday evening he had to miss the morning commission meeting because of an economic development prospect, but he intends to roll out a communication plan on the Braves by the end of the month.
That plan will detail such things as a development agreement and operations agreement, which Lee doesn’t expect will be approved until summer.
Want to go?
WHAT: Public hearings on creation of tax districts to fund new Braves stadium
WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 28 and
9 a.m. Feb. 11. A third hearing will be the evening of the vote, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m.
Where: 100 Cherokee St., Marietta