Residents have been crying foul over recent discussions about Cobb possibly levying a stormwater utility fee, coined a “rain tax.”
The tax would be added to water bills to fund stormwater management in the county.
An MDJ poll asked the five Republican candidates running in the May 20 primary for retiring Commissioner Helen Goreham’s seat, as well as the three candidates running for the seat held by JoAnn Birrell: Would you, under any circumstances, vote to raise taxes if elected?
Bill Byrne, a landscape architect and former county chairman running for Goreham’s District 1 seat, gave a direct, one-word answer, “No.”
But Angela Barner, a Re/Max broker associate running for the same seat, said, “‘Any circumstances’ is broad in nature. … However, for the record, I am opposed to higher property taxes.”
Barner was definitive on not increasing the millage rate for homeowners, who she said pay too much and “non-homeowners pay too little.”
She does support a new special purpose local option sales tax that could be up for voter approval this fall, but only if the project list “makes sense.”
“I believe the voters — not politicians — should decide on what is important to them and how they want their tax dollars spent,” Barner said.
She would oppose a SPLOST item she thinks would waste taxpayer’s money, such as the proposed bus rapid transit system to connect Kennesaw State University with Midtown Atlanta.
Glenn Melson, another candidate, agrees the BRT system would be a waste of money. As commissioner, Melson said he would focus on identifying waste, redundancy and services no longer needed.
“District 1 voters deserve a commissioner who is committed to efficient solutions, limited government and low taxes, not someone looking to fund another service that we do not need or want,” he said.
Melson has put forth a plan focusing on priority-based budgeting, which he said “ensures transparency and accountability to taxpayers.”
Scott Tucker, retired assistant fire chief and District 1 candidate, said the county asking for more taxes is like an employee asking a boss for a raise when times are tough.
“The economy is not back. It’s returning, but government needs to be a good steward of our tax dollars,” Tucker said. “I can’t see any legitimate reason in the foreseeable future to raise our property taxes.”
Former Acworth City Alderman Bob Weatherford, also running for the District 1 seat, stated he would not raise taxes and would continue efforts to reduce the millage rate in Cobb.
But, Weatherford added, he “will do whatever it takes” to champion funding and support “for essential services like public safety.”
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell is being challenged by two Republicans in the May 20 primary: Michael Opitz and Joseph Pond.
Birrell said she is against raising taxes.
“In a down economy in 2011, I voted against raising the millage. I have also been consistent in opposing non-tax fees as well,” Birrell said. “The only circumstance in which I would consider raising taxes is for public safety or fire fund.”
Opitz said he would not support any new taxes.
“One of the problems that exists throughout government at all levels is the belief that every new problem, every new idea, every new crisis, every new whim, is reason for new tax revenue,” he said.
According to Opitz, as the economy began to decline in 2008, Cobb “continued business as usual” instead of tightening spending, until the millage rate was increased “to close the gap.”
“The county government must learn to set priorities and manage resources,” Opitz said. “Our leaders raised taxes and weakened the entire organization to avoid making hard decisions.”
Pond, a master plumber, said “in principle” he would not raise taxes, but the Board of Commissioners is about to finalize a deal with the Braves to commit nearly $300 million of taxpayer funds for a new stadium, which “indirectly commits an unknown amount in additional public safety and traffic management.”
At the end of November, the Cobb Board of Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding to finance the construction of a $672 million, 41,500-seat stadium through new and existing taxes.
Commissioners approved the agreement in a vote of 4-1 with Lisa Cupid, the lone Democrat on the board, voting no.
“Adjustments will have to be made to pay for this starry-eyed, no-brainer decision, and made in such a fashion to not compromise our quality of life,” Pond said.