Cobb County Commission Chairman Michael Boyce made his case for a millage rate increase on his weekly video update, hosted by Cobb Communications Director Ross Cavitt.
“I’d just like to give you a brief story of how we got where we are. And then when we come back next time, I’ll give you an idea of what I’m going to be proposing to the board when we do our retreat on June 12. So let’s just briefly go over what I’ve been talking about here verbally for the last several months. Twenty-five years ago we were at 12.22 mills, and last year our millage rate collectively went to 9.85. So we’re about 2 1/2 mills less than we were 27 years ago. And that represents somewhere in the neighborhood of about $60 million. And how we paid for that lesser amount, that’s the real story here. As you can see in the chart, we started in 1990 to lower the millage rate by transferring money from the water fund. So over time, we allowed that millage rate to go from 12.22 down to a lower rate. In the early part of this century, we started moving some of our general fund projects into the SPLOST. So SPLOST dollars paid for those, which allowed us to lower millage rates even more. And then, of course, during the recession, we raised our millage rate to reflect the shortness in resources because the value of housing went down. And then over time, we started to lower the millage rate even more. So the bottom line here, even though our population has increased, by over 300,000 people, because of the homestead exemption, we don’t get the benefit of that.”
He said that county spending per capita dropped over the past 15 years, from over $600 a person in 2004 to about $500 per person now.
“That has to translate into buying fewer things in an environment where things cost more. So you can do the math. If you’re spending less on things that cost more, that means you’re buying less of something. We simply didn’t buy cars, fleet vehicles, we didn’t renovate buildings. Over 300 of our vehicles in our fleet right now are beyond their service life. And that involves cars, trucks, and things of that nature. Moreover, we added over 270 police cars, because we did the take-home program, and yet we didn’t increase the size of our maintenance department to maintain those cars. Over time, just like at your house, if you have a car that’s over ten years old, and I’m sure a lot of you do, over time you have to start fixing them, and every time I go in to fix my car, it costs me $1000. And eventually, do the math. How many of these $1000 repairs are you going to pay for before you finally realize it’s time to buy a new car. And we’re in the same predicament right now.”
He said the county had been plugging up the problem at the end of each year with unused funds that had been allocated to projects for other projects, but that pool of money had been shrinking every year. “We have no more buckets left to raid, and I have no way to replace that $19 million unless I raise the millage rate.”
Cavitt said Cobb residents had asked him about the emergency fund the county is required to have. Boyce said, “Yes, and we don’t touch that. Because the moment we touch that two things are going to happen. Our rating agencies are going to say, ok, why did you touch it? And it better be because of some catastrophic event that we hadn’t planned on like we had a tornado or some other kind of nature development that we simply had to throw money at to fix … we had the flood in 2009. But they (the rating agencies) are telling us, ok, but how are you going to replace that? And you’d better replace that not next year, but right now.”
He said the consequence of drawing from the emergency fund and not immediately replacing the money is an increase in the cost of borrowing.
In closing Boyce said,
“Bottom line is we didn’t get here overnight. We’ve know for the last four years about this problem. And ladies and gentlemen, that four years is over, the time of reckoning has arrived. If you do not want to have your taxes raised, I want you to tell me which services you want me to cut. And let’s not be cute about this. I can close every library, every senior center, probably half the parks and I still wouldn’t get the $30 million. What is the price for a five-star county? And just to maintain what we have right now, without fixing any other problem, it’s $30 million, which is 1.1 mill. That’s just to maintain what we have right now. It doesn’t start to solve the problem. It just delays the problem for another year, which allows the fleet to age by another year, which just make the replacement even more expensive.”
Watch the full video embedded below: