Cobb County commissioners proceeded Tuesday morning with the first of two public hearings on new taxes and fees that will help fund the public’s $300 million commitment toward a new Atlanta Braves stadium, despite Gov. Nathan Deal’s declaration of a state of emergency because of the approaching winter storm.
Only a few residents braved the wet drive, but those who did criticized the public contribution.
East Cobb resident Gary Pelphrey said he counted 54 people in attendance, although many were county employees. He said holding the meeting under the circumstances amounted to a lack of transparency. Afterward, he called the hearing “bureaucratic window dressing at its worst.”
“There should be no governmental activities except for emergencies,” Pelphrey told commissioners. “I submit to you that there is nothing you can do today that will qualify as an emergency.”
Cobb courts and other government offices remained open Tuesday, as the brunt of the storm was not expected to hit metro Atlanta until early Wednesday.
Cobb spokesman Robert Quigley said there was no reason to cancel the meeting because roads were clear: “Even as late as noon, there were no reports of ice on any county roads,” he said.
The first public hearing on the fees and taxes was canceled because of the Jan. 28 snowstorm.
Commissioners plan a 3-percent rental car tax in unincorporated Cobb, plus a $3 per night fee for hotels in the Cumberland area, along with a 3-percent property tax on businesses and apartment complexes in Cumberland.
Combined, the county projects those revenues will amount to about $8.3 million a year, or just under half of the county’s $17.9 million annual debt service payments. The other half will come from county-wide property taxes ($8.6 million) and hotel-motel taxes ($940,000).
Craig Harfoot, another East Cobb resident who attended Tuesday’s meeting, called the investment a great deal — for the Braves.
“This plan, that you’re saying is economic development, is only good for the people who get the $300 million,” Harfoot said. “It doesn’t benefit the people who live here. You need to rethink this. It’s a dead end proposition.”
No one spoke in favor of the taxes and fees, which are expected to be approved by the commission after its Feb. 25 public hearing. Commissioners have already approved them once, when they voted 4-1 in favor of a preliminary Braves agreement, called a Memorandum of Understanding. Only Commissioner Lisa Cupid voted against it.
Commissioners have said County Attorney Deborah Dance advised them to hold the hearings because it is a legal requirement when creating a new taxing district.
The public hearing also involved several other zoning code changes unrelated to the Braves stadium, which drew comments from lobbyists, people involved in neighborhood associations, and small business owners.