Mableton City Council takes up hotel excise fees, agreements with Atlanta Gas Light

Mableton District 1 Councilman Ron Davis, Mableton District 2 Councilwoman Dami Oladapo, Mableton District 3 Councilwoman Keisha Jeffcoat, Mayor Michael Owens, Mableton District 4 Councilwoman Patricia Auch, Mableton District 5 Councilman T.J. Ferguson, Mableton District 6 Councilwoman Debora Herndon all seated in a row at a tableL-R Mableton District 1 Councilman Ron Davis, Mableton District 2 Councilwoman Dami Oladapo, Mableton District 3 Councilwoman Keisha Jeffcoat, Mayor Michael Owens, Mableton District 4 Councilwoman Patricia Auch, Mableton District 5 Councilman T.J. Ferguson, Mableton District 6 Councilwoman Debora Herndon (Photo by Larry Felton Johnson/Cobb County Courier)

by Arielle Robinson

At another transitional city council meeting last Wednesday evening, Mableton leaders discussed more business dealing with creating the new city.

Hotel excise fees

The city council unanimously agreed to reduce its hotel excise taxes, currently assessed at Cobb’s 8 percent, down to 5 percent.

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The specific city ordinance to be amended is Chapter 7 on taxes, fees, and assessments.

This means that customers will see a 3 percent rate decrease for guest stays at hotels in Mableton.

“And then when the [Georgia] General Assembly convenes in January, potentially, [the 5 percent] could go back up to 8 percent, correct?” City Councilmember Keisha Jeffcoat asked.

“Correct, in collaboration with your local delegation and your local representative,” Interim City Attorney Emilia Walker-Ashby said.

Wednesday was the second read of the ordinance.

“This is based on the Carl Vinson Institute that did your feasibility study,” Walker-Ashby said. “This is one of the recommended major sources of revenue for the city of Mableton.

“And the hotels that will be subject to this tax—this is not going to be anything new, they’re already being assessed this tax by the county, so it will just transfer the delivery of funds. So instead of going to the county, the funds will go to the city of Mableton.”

Walker-Ashby mentioned that if a hotel is exempt under state law then “naturally” a hotel will be exempt under the city ordinance.

“There’s mechanisms for enforcement, for collection, for administration, these are standard processes, your ordinance has no major substantial deviation from any of the ordinances that are typically in place for this type of assessment,” Walker-Ashby said.

Franchise agreements

An ordinance was originally scheduled granting franchise to Georgia Power, but that was postponed to a later meeting at the request of the interim city attorney.

City council focused on franchise agreements with Atlanta Gas Light Company and Greystone Power Corporation Wednesday.

“…these are two of your larger utilities with respect to the franchise ordinance that was put into place last month,” Walker-Ashby said. “…the utilities have a choice as to whether they enter into a franchise agreement with you. They don’t have to. 

“And some historically, particularly throughout Cobb County, you have multiple utilities who do not enter into franchise agreements and they pay their respective cities just on a monthly basis. A lot of the larger utilities will request to enter into the agreement, so tonight we have been able to negotiate and work out these agreements with two in particular, Greystone as well as Atlanta Gas Light.”

The franchise term with Atlanta Gas Light is 30 years, from June 2023 through May 31, 2053.

The interim city attorney said that the agreement gives Atlanta Gas Light the ability to continue operating within the city’s right of way.

She said the company will do quarterly payments, and they will be each March, June, September, and December.

This year, their initial payment was due July 30.

“Franchise fees are the funds that these utilities pay the city, they pay us to allow us to use their right of ways,” Mayor Michael Owens said. “…They then by law are allowed to pass that fee on to consumers—however, they do not have to. 

“It is not written law, as far as I know, for them to pass that on, or how much they should decide to pass on, that is up to the entity itself and then regulated by the PSC [Georgia Public Service Commission].

“…it’s important for us to understand that this is funds that are due to the city specifically because of the right of ways that we give the utilities [companies] to be able to provide services within our city boundaries.”

The franchise term with Greystone is 35 years.

Normally, Greystone would pay in March annually, but they agreed to do advance payments this year beginning June 26 through the rest of the year.

“And then they have also agreed to do a 50 percent advance payment next year because just keep in mind that if they do an advance payment this year, when next March comes, you will have already received the revenue, which means that you would have nothing that would be allocated for that year. So because you are in your transition period, they have agreed when March comes to do a 50 percent advance payment,” Walker-Ashby said.

The interim city attorney commented that Greystone appears to have superior technology when it comes to utilizing mapping and boundary data.

A representative from Greystone was at the meeting to present an early payment of the check.

Discussion about city cell phones, other tech

“…it’s imperative that we move forward to being able to secure city devices, cell phones, and laptops,” Owens said. “It is not only a security issue, it’s also an issue for us to be able to communicate better and more effectively and more securely.”

The city looks to have personal laptops as well as related software such as Adobe Pro and Google Suite, and a way to centrally manage devices.

Owens said that for the purchase of 10 Dell laptops, the city is looking at a high watermark of $16,000 and $385 per month for managing the cybersecurity software after the initial payment of the former.

InterDev, a tech company that also acts as a subcontractor for the Dell purchasing agreement, got the quotes for the city. Owens said InterDev is the vendor that will provide the hardware and software for the city.

When Jeffcoat asked Owens if InterDev offers host-providing services to support a website, the mayor said the city would discuss that later because they are looking at a few different companies.

Owens said the city was looking for not just a website, “but also integrated applications for constituent engagement as well as document management and storage, as well as agenda management for our overall meetings so that no matter who you are, you could be able to see what our agendas are. Our minutes will be posted online as well as Municode, which has taken our ordinances and [will get] them stored properly with the state. So that’s actually separate, from a communications platform perspective.”

Councilmember TJ Ferguson mentioned receiving bids from InterDev, Dell, and Flagler Technologies, and Councilmember Debora Herndon said she got a quote from Jacobs.

Ferguson said that InterDev was chosen because it was the most cost-effective and most comprehensive.

For cell phones, the city spoke to AT&T and Verizon as potential vendors.

The city is looking at either iPhones or Samsung phones, and Owens said the one-time hardware price for 10 phones through AT&T would be about $510 and the monthly cost would be $39.99 for each phone. So monthly, the phones would cost around $400.

Owens believes the city would get a better deal with AT&T.

Owens said the purchase of the cell phones and laptops should be made by sometime in December this year.

The vote for the Dell devices and software and hardware related to that was pushed until the next council meeting because the council wanted more time to get the quotes together.

City council unanimously agreed to move forward with the cell phone agreement.

City council and mayor comments

Councilmember Ron Davis expressed his gratitude for the training that the Georgia Municipal Association has provided city officials.

Davis also talked about two fires that occurred in the city, the most recent being around July 3 at Riverside Parkway. Several people were displaced from their homes and lightning was believed to have started the fire.

“In both instances, it was good to see council members come together and actually work together to console and talk to the people,” Davis said. “…What’s the old adage? ‘People don’t care about how much you know, they want to know how much you care.’ And what I see here are council members that actually care about the people, would take the time in 90-degree temperatures and go out and meet with people. 

“At the end of the day, we can sit up here and talk about our credentials and our education and our experiences and all that great stuff. But at the end of the day, people want to know that you really care about them. And one of the things I always said in my campaign was that I was going to make sure that people knew that I was there for them. And I have no doubt that the council members here as well as the mayor himself—they care about the people.”

Councilmember Dami Oladapo thanked Family Life Restoration Center for hosting a dinner for the families impacted by the fires that have occurred.

“I truly appreciate their support,” Oladapo said. “They do all of this for the community for free and it’s been really crucial in helping those who are impacted heal and just regain everything they lost—not even everything because they lost things that are very sentimental, that even money cannot buy.

“I was talking to one of the impacted families yesterday and she said that she lost a lot of things that her grandparents passed on to her. And the insurance company was saying, ‘Can you give us a list of how much they cost?’ And she couldn’t even put a price point to it because those things are invaluable. So knowing that they have a community that supports them while they’re getting back on their feet with their children, and their jobs, and finding a new place to live is very important to me and I was very glad that some of the council members were able to come out yesterday.”

Jeffcoat echoed Davis’ comments about GMA and how GMA has gone above and beyond to help the council.

Councilmember Patricia Auch mentioned that GMA has resources available to the public.

“I would encourage everyone to get on GMA’s website, dig around, learn about government so you know what’s going on too, and I appreciate all of you who continually come to these city council meetings and are engaging in the process and being part of your new city,” Auch said.

Ferguson also commented on the fire that happened at Riverside Parkway.

“Yesterday, I had the privilege of sitting with a family who was displaced because of the apartment fire caused by a lightning strike,” Ferguson said. “…And as I listened to this family talk, my heart began to hurt. Because this is a working family that is now battling to figure out how they put the pieces together because of a situation they had zero control over. This was a situation where had they been home, they might not have been sitting there in front of me to have this conversation.”

Ferguson said that the transformers that were struck by lightning were right near the mother’s bedroom.

“Had she been home she would not have been able to get out of her bedroom,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson specifically thanked Luther and Angela Washington, who founded and lead Family Life Restoration Center.

Ferguson also said that Nextdoor should be utilized to help the people who have lost items in the fires.

“What really made my heart hurt though—and this is the kicker—was that more families that were affected didn’t come [to the dinner],” Ferguson said. “And you know the reason they didn’t come? Because they thought that it was being put on by those at the apartment complex to quiet them.

“We as the citizens of this city have got to do everything in our power to help those people who live right next door, those people who live down the street, those people who live in districts 1,2,3,4,5, and 6. We are one city, we need to band together as one city. When I ran, I just happened to be on a trip with my family for Christmas and I happened to be in a country where I saw that a tree was down in this country, and the people—not the government—the people came together to go move that tree out of the road. Now, I don’t expect you all out there with hacksaws and chainsaws, and my wife won’t let me do it either. But at the end of the day, that’s the type of community that Mableton can be.”

During her comments, Herndon said she has heard concerns from citizens that the council is not addressing issues they have brought forward.

“I just wanted to say to all of you that we hear you,” Herndon said. “At this point, we are working diligently to set things up where we can have better communication. I just want you to know that we hear your concerns, we have heard your suggestions, it’s not going on deaf ears. And at some point, as we continue to deal with some of these issues for the city, we will be addressing some of the things that you all have brought up.”

Herndon also addressed concerns that some residents have reached out to the mayor and council with no response at all.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for anyone because I know as you know, we serve you and when you reach out we do need to respond. But if you could give us just a little grace and understanding and just know that we do see your emails when they come in and our goal is to respond to you more expeditiously,” Herndon said.

Owens addressed several issues during his comments.

First, he addressed communication.

Owens said that the city has a Facebook page where information such as when meetings are and what city events are happening is posted, and encouraged people to follow the city on there.

“We also launched an information signup, and I think about 80 people have signed up for that as well. That basically is going to be the beginning of us having a newsletter signup at some point in time, where we can get comms out more regularly. But we do want people to go ahead and start signing up for that so we can at least start getting some initial emails out, let you know when meetings are, and some other basic things,” Owens said.

Owens said that in the same form where you can sign up to receive information, there is also a section that asks residents if they would like to volunteer to help the city. The mayor said about 50 people have volunteered so far. 

There are several commissions, boards, or authorities listed that people can sign up to volunteer for. 

Owens made a disclaimer that not everyone will be selected and will be automatically put on a committee, but it does get names out there.

Owens then talked about a city website.

“There’s a reason why we haven’t necessarily set up an interim website—because number one that is money that’s going to be spent or a lot of time and effort on some of our parts that we don’t already have,” Owens said. “And another reason for that is that we would have to migrate that site and move things over. Our goal is to take our time and build a world-class site that’s worthy of a city of 80,000 people. That doesn’t come free and that doesn’t come without a lot of thought.”

The mayor said he, Ferguson, and Interim City Clerk Susan Hiott have been meeting with several companies to come up with the best possible website.

“We just want to make sure we’re putting a lot of thought and effort into that,” Owens said. “And let’s face it, without providing those services, a lot of that website would just say go see the county. We want to make sure we have substantive stuff that’s there.”

Owens also brought up confusion over the boundaries of the city.

“I’m going to blame Google,” he said. “Because most people will Google Mableton and then use that boundary that they have. I have reached out to Google several times about trying to get this fixed. Turns out we have to become a government partner with them in order to do so. 

“I was like, ‘Here’s our file, like use our file, update it.’ That is not the way that they work. So it’s more paperwork, other meetings. I’m actually going to try to dovetail that into some of the public sector work that we’re doing for our Google Suite for the stuff that we’re going to use and hopefully be able to move forward with that. But if you see people out there and you see documentation or even the media that uses the wrong boundaries, that’s a large reason as to why that is.”

The mayor also said that he was appointed to the Cobb Department of Transportation’s committee that studies the new proposed South Cobb Transit Center.

Phase one—a site survey—has already been done, Owens said. The proposed location will be around Wellstar Cobb Hospital.

“I do believe that as an entire city, there are certain areas that we desperately need transit in and expanded transit and transit hubs…we will continue to have those discussions, there will be more meetings. The second committee meeting that I was assigned to has just been scheduled, so I’ll be bringing more of those concerns to that,” Owens said.

“As we move forward with that we’ll also have other opportunities to get your feedback, specifically around the transit hub, the possibility of having even a second transit hub, if necessary. To close that out, I do, however, want to ask more people to reach out to us. I’m making a specific ask about transit-related issues or opportunities in the city.

“If you have an idea, if you have a problem, if you have an issue, bring them to our attention, because we will be working directly with Cobb DOT to at least talk about what our priorities are…I want to hear your voices…and this is multimodal. This is bus, car, bikes, trailways. Any of those things, please bring those to us sooner than later because those discussions are obviously already happening and we want to make sure as a city that you allow us to have your voice and carry that forward.”

The mayor said citizens can send their ideas or concerns about transit to the email, cityofmableton@gmail.com.

Owens very briefly talked about the lawsuit that seeks to dissolve Mableton.

As discussed in a previous Courier article, Owens mentioned Wednesday that the city has retained former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton to represent it against the lawsuit.

“That is, I think, all I’m prepared to say about that right now,” Owens said. “But we have retained counsel, we will be defending ourselves as a city, and through counsel we will progress through with whatever efforts that may be.”

Owens transitioned into talking about the city’s relationship with the county.

He said the city has only had two meetings with the county so far, one of those being with Tax Commissioner Carla Jackson.

“We were able to talk through items about the earliest taxes that we could get in the door,” the mayor said. “And that turned out to be ad valorem taxes for our motor vehicle sales. I say publicly, I’m thankful to Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, and specifically to the Tax Commissioner Carla Jackson, because when we met with them, they had everything ready that we would need.

“And subsequently, because of that, we were able to move forward quite quickly with the [Georgia] Department of Revenue to ensure that any motor vehicle that was bought or sold within the city of Mableton, that the city would receive revenue for that and because of that, that actually became the first source of revenue that the city actually did receive.”

Owens called it a “milestone” that within two months of Mableton becoming a city it has been able to hold council meetings, meet with county leaders, and open and have funds in the city account. 

People in the room applauded at that comment.

Owens moved on. He said that the city is “quite a way” from having conversations about transitional services.

He said the city had a meeting at Cherokee Street in which they discussed potential sources of revenue.

“One of the reasons we have a hotel-motel tax that we’re approving as a city is because there were discussions with the county about being able to leverage that between five and eight percent and things that we were going to need to be able to do,” Owens said.

The mayor said that the city will meet again with the county within the next couple of weeks.

Owens said he envisions the timeline of creating the new city in three phases.

He says Mableton is currently “very much” in the first phase. 

The first phase includes transitional things such as opening bank accounts, trying to get city devices, and analyzing how to bring revenue into the city that would not require the city to hire additional staff.

“Which is why the Department of Revenue and ad valorem was the first thing we went for,” Owens said. “Because we did not have to stand up a department in order to do that.”

Owens said that franchise fees were also helpful because they did not have to create a department or hire additional staff to leverage them.

“​​Once we solidify those we then move into hotel-motel tax, which you guys have just heard, which will take some effort for us to be able to realize those funds, [and then] alcohol and permitting, and then we move on successively down the road, but as we build capacity as a city to be able to take on those items, then we can start to look to levy those and then pull more funds in,” Owens said.

“Then as we get to phase three,” he said. “Then we’re actually talking about transition of actual services that we have talked about before, [like] code enforcement and sanitation and those things that are actually transitioning from the county. So keep in mind where we are ladies and gentlemen, we’re still 60 days in. We’re two months into being a city, fully in phase one.”

Owens said the city is working diligently to move along and that the city’s next goal is to put together a preliminary transitional budget. He said that will hopefully be done by October.

“N​​ow for those that may have concerns about the fact that we’ve gone through some expenditures that we’ve had to thus far,” Owens said. “Whether it’s attending training, or getting laptops and computers, I can assure you—I can assure you—especially after a few minutes, that this amount of money we spent is not a fraction of the revenue that the city will bring in. 

“So we by no means came anywhere near to spending anywhere close to the amount of money that we will pull in in revenue. These are expenditures that we’ve made thus far since May 11 that we’ve absolutely had to do so we could operate basic operations in the city. 

“And I would say we’ve actually held off on a significant amount of those until we had revenue to come in to be able to do so. So once we have, again, some significant revenue to come in we could look at some other things but for right now, at the behest of the city, at the behest of I think what all of us have said, we want to make sure that we’re being fiscally conservative about what we’re doing. 

“Again, I know there’s this push to ‘we want to see more,’ ‘we want websites,’ ‘we want these things,’ but at the same time, we want to make sure that we know we have revenue and we’re doing this at the right time and taking our time to put the right things in place.”

Owens also touched upon how to communicate with city officials.

“Nextdoor is not a sanctioned or approved communication medium for the city,” he said. “However, some of us have used it in the past. Some of us will continue to, but please if you’re communicating with us directly, use a phone number or an email to reach us directly, particularly when you’re reaching out about specific things that we need to capture. But we do want that communication to come in. 

“And I’ll apologize directly if I have not been as responsive as I can, I take all the time I can and try to get back to folks, but there may be something on Nextdoor I still have not seen…We’re working hard on your behalf and we will continue to do that. If you do not get a response, feel free to reach out again.”

Owens again recommended that people visit the city’s Facebook page and fill out a form that may allow a resident to join a city committee or authority.

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.

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