Monday, June 30, 2008

Coalition pushes for follow-up parks bond

From the Marietta Daily Journal on Monday, June 30, 2008 by Ashley Hungerford, staff writer

MARIETTA - With more than $2 million remaining in Cobb's $40 million parks bond, a grassroots campaign is pushing for a follow-up parks bond for the county to continue purchasing more parkland.

The Cobb Parks Coalition is gearing back up for another campaign to ensure the measure is taken to the voters on Nov. 4.

The grassroots coalition is largely responsible for the passage of the parks bond in 2006 by over 70 percent of the vote.

Close to 50 civic and homeowners-associations leaders, representatives from the county and concerned county residents gathered at coalition leader Paul Paulson's house on Casteel Road on Sunday afternoon to discuss a follow-up parks bond.

Cobb Chairman Sam Olens and Commissioners Tim Lee and Helen Goreham were on hand to hear the discussion, although no official county action was taken.

"Hasn't the news just been fantastic about the first bond?" Paulson said. "We had good luck last time. Let's hope we have the same luck."

Paulson said the first goal is to get the parks bond on the November ballot.

To put a measure on the ballot, the Board of Commissioner would need to vote on the proposal by its July 22 meeting, Olens said.

"It's a tight time frame," Olens said.

Olens said he would support another $40 million parks bond, with a 15-year pay back period. The 2006 parks bond is on a 10-year pay back period.

"If you look at what we did with the first $40 million, you would say we did a lot," he said.

After talking with the county manager and finance department, Olens said this is what the county can do without a tax increase. He said he will not support anything that leads to a tax increase.

"It's important in this economy to stay at the same millage level we have now," Olens said. "When the economy is down, that's not when you hit your citizens."

With Olens' proposal, the county's millage rate would remain at 9.6 mills, meaning property owners would continue to pay $9.60 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The change would be in the distribution of the mills, he said.

Cobb's total millage rate, the measure the county uses to assess property taxes, is divided into three portions - 6.82 mills collected goes to the general fund, 2.56 mills goes to the fire fund and 0.22 mills goes to the debt service fund.

To prevent a tax increase with the second bond measure, Olens said there is the potential to reduce the millage rate of the fire fund by .1 mills to 2.46 mills, and move it over to the debt service fund.

Olens said in no way would this change affect the efficiency of Cobb's fire department.

If it appears on the ballot, Olens said the parks bond measure would be worded the same way it was in 2006, changing only the date and the 15-year pay back period.

This means the bond would be for parkland acquisition, not development.

"There isn't a rush on developing parkland, but there is a rush on preserving green space," he said.

Many at the meeting asked what needed to be done to make sure the commissioners vote at their July 22 meeting.

Community support was Olens' answer.

"The commissioners would like to hear from the citizens," Olens said. "The county commission is very responsive to what we hear from the community."

With the 2006 parks bond, the county secured five of the six top properties proposed by a citizens advisory committee. The sixth is a 54-acre tract, owned by Wylene Tritt, on Roswell Road in northeast Cobb.

The county has purchased more than 309 acres through the parks bond, using $37.67 million of the $40 million.

The tracts of property include 137.45-acre Stana property on Brownsville Road in southwest Cobb, $5.76 million; 112 acres of the Bullard-Stockton tract along Dallas Highway in west Cobb, $18.6 million; 26.5 acres of the Mabry Centennial Farm at the corner of Wesley Chapel and Sandy Plains Roads, $4.2 million; 16 acres near Henderson Road off Veteran's Memorial Highway near the Chattahoochee River, $2.4 million; and 17.7 acres of the Price property at Stilesboro Road near Acworth-Due West Road, $1.4 million.

The total acreage does not include the county's portion of 95-acre Hyde Farm is east Cobb.

Last month, the Trust for Public Land purchased the working farm off Lower Roswell Road for $14.19 million. The land will eventually be divided between Cobb County and the National Park Service. The county will use $5 million of the parks bond for their portion.

Lee, who represents northeast Cobb, said there is a "rumbling" from some residents in east Cobb who feel like they supported west Cobb's effort to get more parks.

Not to take away from anything that was accomplished, Lee said more attention needs to be paid to those areas where parkland wasn't acquired with the first bond.

Morning Washburn, an east Cobb resident and participant of Cobb Parks Coalition, said "pocket size parks," or small assemblages of parkland, would be good to consider this time around.

"I would love to know families in the future can walk to pocket size parks," she said. "This would help in areas that didn't have huge nominations."

With record voter turnout expected in November, Paulson said the county will get a true feeling of it if the residents want more parks.

"It's going to be a test," he said.


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