School board watchers will remember that the QCI was the brainchild of board member John Crooks more than a year ago and the idea was to use leftover SPLOST II money to reduce the 300-plus trailers on Cobb campuses to fewer than 100. Remember also that the SPLOST II tax expired Dec. 31, 2008, and generated about $72 million more revenue than projected. Those funds have been salted away ever since.
During this spring's severe budget crisis Crooks sold the board on a novel idea - that of a phantom tax increase that would spring loose $23.9 million of those leftover SPLOST II funds to help balance the $819.4 million budget.
Georgia law says SPLOST revenues can only be used for brick-and-mortar expenses, paying down debt or reducing the millage (tax) rate - not for operating expenses like salaries. But Crooks' proposal allowed the board to finesse its way around that law - hiking the property-tax rate and then immediately voting to reduce the millage back to what it had been originally.
The board agreed to the blink-and-you-missed-it tax hike and approved the new budget Wednesday. It goes into effect July 1.
Cobb's school brass have taken a close-to-the-vest approach to dealing with the budget crisis, ultimately laying off about 1,000 teachers last month and then in a bizarre but welcome move this week, revealing that it might hire half of them back. And as for the phantom tax hike - a scheme never used before in Georgia - plans for it were revealed in Around Town weeks before the measure was ever discussed in public by the board.
With a millage cap of 20 mills and a current millage of 18.9 mills, the phantom tax increase could not exceed 1.1 mills. But that 1.1-mill rollback freed up $23.9 million of leftover SPLOST dollars to go toward this year's budget.
But here's a question: Because Cobb's up-and-back tax increase tapped into only $23.9 million of that unspent $72 million, didn't that still leave a balance of $48 million - more than enough for the $40 million QCI, which would be an allowable use of SPLOST dollars?
Well, the latest dirty little secret that certain school officials apparently wanted to hide from the public is that the financially challenged school system will have to tap into all the unspent SPLOST II funds during the next two years to balance its budget - thereby leaving the QCI in the deep freeze in the central office morgue. In other words, it is said to be planning similar "phantom tax hikes" for the next two budget years.
Although Crooks, who is not seeking reelection this year, will not be around for next year's budget melee, he said he would like to see this year's novel SPLOST free-up plan repeated for next two years and predicts the board won't have much choice. He says the budget crisis is "bad today and will not be good tomorrow. It is not getting any better."
In fact, with some economists saying we are on the cusp of a "double-dip" recession - another downtown within the current recession - next year's revenue picture could be much worse for the school board and other local governments than even this year's.
Crooks admits that his QCI plan for eliminating trailers will take a back seat to the use of leftover SPLOST funds to balance the budget, but remains optimistic that SPLOST III will make a dent in Cobb's trailer inventory.
LAST WEEK’S AROUND TOWN detailed the array of Cobb Republicans lined up behind the four major GOP candidates for governor, none of whom has a commanding lead in the polls. There also are four major Democrats running for governor, but one , former Gov. Roy Barnes of Marietta, is considered the man to beat. That is certainly true in Cobb, where nearly all of the party’s best known figures are in his corner.
Among those said to be working actively on his behalf are paving contractors Bob Matthews and Butch Thompson. Also backing Barnes is former Kennesaw resident and now Atlantan Michael J. Coles, founder of the Great American Cookie Co. and former president of Caribou Coffee. Also busy for Barnes is former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden of Marietta, now in private practice with one of Atlanta’s biggest law firms.
Barnes also has the backing of state Sen. Steve Thompson of Powder Springs and Doug Stoner of Smyrna, state Reps. Don Wix of Mableton, and Pat Dooley of Marietta, acting Cobb Commission Chair Woody Thompson, state Court of Appeals Judge Harris Adams, and Cobb Superior Court Judge Rob Flournoy.
Cobb supporters of former Georgia Adjutant Gen. David Poythress include retired Marietta schools Superintendent Dr. Harold Barnett and Kennesaw Councilman Bill Thrash.
There may well be a few other prominent local Democrats who prefer Poythress, state Attorney General Thurbert Baker or the fourth candidate in the race, state Sen. DuBose Porter, to Barnes, but if so, they probably are wise enough to try to keep their efforts on their candidate’s behalf off of Barnes’ radar screen. And repeated calls to those campaigns in hopes of learning who might be supporting them from Cobb went unanswered.
Former Cobb Democratic Chairman David Wilkerson, who’s now running for a state legislative seat representing south Cobb, told AT he thinks Barnes has already captured virtually all of the county’s available Democratic supporters.
CURIOUS HOW local candidates feel about certain issues? About whether Cobb school board candidates think Superintendent Sanderson’s contract should be extended when it expires June 30 of next year? About whether legislative candidates think illegal aliens should be admitted to the state’s public colleges and universities? About whether Cobb commission candidates think the proposed light rail line between Cumberland and Town Center malls should connect with MARTA rail? You’ll find those answers, and the answers to many more such questions, in coming editions of the MDJ.
As it does every year near election time, the MDJ mailed out issue questionnaires to all local candidates. Sunday’s MDJ will feature the answers from legislative candidates; with commission candidates’ answers on Monday and school board candidates on Tuesday.
REPUBLICAN STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL candidate Sam Olens will be guest speaker at Monday’s Madison Forum lunch. State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) who’s facing a strenuous re-election challenge in the GOP Primary from former Rep. Lynda Coker, had been slated as the speaker, but Forum President Michael Opitz reports that due to his own scheduling error, Hill has now been shifted to June 26. Monday’s Forum meeting is at noon at the Rib Ranch in east Cobb.
Also today, the Marietta Kiwanis Club will conduct the seventh annual Marietta Soap Box Derby today at Marietta High School. Admission is free. Drivers will be introduced and racing will begin at 9 with the Championship runs around 4 p.m.
FRIDAY WAS A DAY OF CONTRASTING EMOTIONS for the Marietta High School football family. On a somber note, MHS Principal Lee Colburn reported: “With great sadness, this morning Marietta football lost one of its champion coaches and beloved friend — Coach Bert Dodd.”
Dodd, an assistant coach who had worked with the Blue Devil offensive line since 1997, died at home following a lengthy battle with a heart condition. Dodd, a MHS source says, manned the Blue Devil sidelines while ill this past season but had planned to give up coaching next season because of his health. Dodd, a former Blue Devil player, is survived by wife Martha, a MHS alumnus and currently a social worker in Douglasville. Their children also attend MHS. Claire will be a freshman this year and Tripp will be a senior on the Blue Devil football team.
Martha Dodd is the daughter of the late Polly and Lester Williams. Polly was a teacher at MHS and Lester was a longtime offensive coordinator for the Blue Devils who is remembered as one of the more colorful figures in Marietta football history. Lester was good friends with country music star Charlie Daniels and made many trips to Nashville and the Grand Ol’ Opry. As golf coach for Marietta, he also became good friends with flamboyant PGA star of the ’50s and ’60s, the late Doug Sanders, a Georgia native known for his colorful attire and personality.
On a brighter note, Dorothy Richards, wife of retired Blue Devil head football coach James “Friday” Richards, was honored on her retirement after 33 years as a nurse in the delivery room at Kennestone Hospital. Asked how many deliveries she’d been a part of, she laughed and said she can’t remember exactly but, “It’s got to be in the thousands.”
Friday Richards retired earlier this year after 16 seasons as head coach and 33 years on the coaching staff. The couple loves to attend UGA football games and now they’ll have even more time and more reason to make it to Athens.
Their only child, daughter Jamie, is transferring to Georgia to start her sophomore year after a stellar academic freshman year at the University of Kentucky.