By Arielle Robinson
Cobb County’s Board of Commissioners adopted the 2021 millage rate along with an increase in property taxes amid a few opponents who spoke out against the tax increase at the BOC meeting Tuesday evening.
The millage rate will remain the same as last year, at 8.46 mills for the general fund, 2.86 mills for the fire district fund, 0.13 for the debt service fund, 2.45 for the Cumberland Special Service District II and the Six Flags Special Service District.
Property taxes will increase by 5.35 percent.
Although the millage rate stays the same, Cobb’s Finance Director and Comptroller Bill Volckmann said that the county must legally advertise the tax increase. This is because the property tax digest increased in value.
Volckmann’s presentation to the board stated the following:
“This tentative increase will result in a millage rate of 8.460 mills, an effective increase of 0.430 mills. Without this tentative tax increase, the millage rate will be no more than 8.030 mills. The proposed tax increase for a home with a fair market value of $325,000.00 is approximately $51.60 and the proposed tax increase for non-homestead property with a fair market value of $450,000.00 is approximately $77.40.”
Like the budget, the millage rate and tax increase passed the Board in a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Keli Gambrill was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
By Georgia law, the county is required to have three public hearings about the millage rate in the event that the millage rate is set at a number that would result in an increase in the tax digest.
Before the commissioners voted, several Cobb residents used Tuesday’s third and final hearing as an opportunity to raise personal concerns or voice opposition to the tax increase.
Dani Wilson disapproved of how high the values of her home have increased.
She told the board that the appraised value for her home increased by $10,440 and the assessed value of her home went up $4,176.
“So if everybody looks at their property tax bill and compare it to what was paid last year, they’ll see that we did get an increase in property taxes,” Wilson said. “We just didn’t get it through the millage, but it came through the back door and then through the appraisal value and the assessed values of the home.”
Quantina Scott, who has been organizing with residents to find a place to live after their apartment complex kicked them out for renovations, explained her disapproval of the tax increase to the board.
“I have a business background, but I’m still not understanding why are we raising taxes when the economy is not even back being stable,” Scott said. “Businesses are struggling to get employees, people are struggling with trying to find housing, so I’m trying to understand … but we still are not stable.”
Scott said that when taxes go up, it does not affect corporations and the rich, but “the little people.”
She said that the prices of rent have increased and suggested the BOC wait until at least next year to give people a chance to recover from the pandemic.
Gloria Hicklin, a Cobb resident for 30 years, said she is frustrated with people who live out of state and own property in and pay property taxes to Cobb but do not keep up the property they own.
Hicklin said her landlord lives out of state and refuses to fix his property — which she lives on. She said he has shut the the lights, gas and water off but she was able to get the lights and gas fixed.
Although Legal Aid has called the landlord about the various issues on the property, Hicklin says the water still has not been fixed.
“We have kids in the house,” Hicklin said. “It bothers me to see that [Cobb allows] people to come from another state … [paying] the [property] tax and not doing the right thing. And then we have people that’s homeless, on the street because of what’s going on. We need to do something, we need to have everybody accountable for their action.”
Commissioner Chairwoman Lisa Cupid answered earlier questions about why taxes have increased by discussing employee retention and the FY 2022 budget.
Cupid said that slight changes in the budget have caused the increase.
She pointed to the budget’s higher employee pension and healthcare costs and said that the county plans for these increased costs every year.
Cupid also said that county employees have not regularly received merit raises from the board, despite some of them working for a number of years.
“Right now, the way that the market is — and you may have seen this in the news — it is very difficult to retain employees,” Cupid said. “You have people out there begging people to come work. We do not want to slide into having anymore employee retention issues within the county.”
Cupid said the board decided to provide employees with a three percent merit raise, although she acknowledged that some employees say that number is insufficient.
Added personnel like elections workers the county approved in the budget also helps county residents, as more workers may mean lesser wait times in upcoming elections, Cupid said. Ballots can also be counted faster.
The chairwoman also said that when workers leave Cobb, that places a burden on the residents, as they will receive lower quality services. This in turn further affects the county and the Board, who must dedicate more resources to find employees who will provide quality service.
A few other reasons Cupid provided for the increase is that the county must fund capital maintenance and social justice issues.
With regard to the former, Cupid says past county leadership has been frugal in this area and as a result, Cobb buildings do not receive the proper maintenance they should.
“If you don’t pay that up front, you will pay it on the back end. It will be more,” Cupid said. “So either we prudently address this every year or we come back and ask you for more. So we are not asking for more than what we’ve asked in years we’ve funded this regularly. We are moving our capital maintenance budget back to where it should have been year after year.”
Cupid said that commissioners often get emails about social justice and equity issues and past Cobb leaders have not addressed these issues despite them saying they would. The current Board would like to change it.
Commissioners Monique Sheffield and Jerica Richardson also spoke specifically on the tax decision.
Sheffield said that county employees consistently go above expectations yet are overworked and underpaid.
Richardson said that with the loss of employees comes the loss of investment and advancement in Cobb County.
Sheffield and Richardson in their statements said that issues of deficiency cannot continue plaguing the county.
“Taxes, as we know, is a third rail. Nobody wants to deal with it,” Sheffield said. “ … But the truth of the matter is, for those things that we demand and for the maintenance and what is required to run this county — it costs money. … What’s been happening is that we’ve been kicking the can down the road and unfortunately, now, we are on a dead end street and we just cannot kick it any longer.”
To watch the presentation, public hearing and commissioner comments on the millage rate and property tax increase, skip to 27:54 in the online stream of the meeting.
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.