Cobb County, combined with city, school, state and federal entities is fortunate to be home to an abundance of parks, covering more than 16,000 acres of land in our great community.
With the goal of making your world class park system even better, on January 26 I will propose to the Board of Commissioners that we task the Cobb County Recreation Board with leading a renewed green space acquisition effort. This will begin with a review of the work already completed in 2009. The Recreation Board will look back at the original list of 29 properties to make sure these are still available and they will also identify shortfalls and new opportunities. Specifically, to enhance our park system while at the same time help to reduce flood risk, control runoff and curb water pollution, I will ask that the Recreation Board look for available land in flood plains.
In 2008, Cobb County voters passed a referendum authorizing the Board of Commission to issue Park Bonds in an amount not to exceed $40,000,000. The Notice stated that bonds, if issued, shall be used to fund all or a portion of the cost of acquiring land for use as public parks. The underlying premise has always been that the bonds would not be issued unless it could be accomplished without raising property taxes. It has always been my position that these bonds should not be issued if it requires a tax increase.
Following the passage of the referendum, a Parks Bond Citizen Advisory Council was convened and it developed a recommended list of 29 parcels for consideration for purchase. Simultaneously, the national and local economy entered into a deep recession. Unfortunately, the impact of the recession on Cobb County was such that it was impossible to issue the park bonds without a subsequent hike in the millage rate.
The referendum that was passed by voters stated specifically that the $40 million was to be paid in pre-defined increments, as outlined in the actual referendum, over a period of 14 years. As each year goes by, those increments expire. Therefore, the full $40 million is no longer available.
Some have framed the park bonds in the context of the financial partnership that Cobb County has with the Atlanta Braves on SunTrust Park. There are a few things I want to make clear:
- Our decision to move forward with the SunTrust Park partnership was never a choice between the Atlanta Braves and Cobb County parks. The only objective was to make sure that we maximized all available resources to ensure a smart investment that would result in the best outcome for Cobb County now, and far into the future;
- I am proud of the work that was done and the balanced financial approach we took to move forward biggest economic development project in the history of Cobb County.
Because of the results of the decision to invest in SunTrust Park, Cobb County is bucking the trends. Companies are moving out of urban areas into Cobb, 4500 jobs were created or retained last year, unemployment is down to 5 percent and we are able to reinvest in public safety and green space.
I am excited about the progress and momentum in Cobb County and I look forward to adding to this with even more park and recreation opportunities for our residents.