Cobb 2023 budget: Travel rebound to help with Braves stadium costs

Travel hasn’t quite recovered to pre-pandemic levels in Cobb County — but it’s getting close.

Cobb budget officials expect the county to generate $16.5 million from hotel tax revenue next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. If the projections hold up, that would be the most since the coronavirus disrupted the global economy in 2020, but still shy of the $17.7 million the county generated in the 2019 budget year.

Local governments across the state have seen their hotel-motel taxes shrivel over the last few years. And it makes up a tiny share of overall government revenue, hotel taxes have outsized political importance in Cobb, where local leaders promised that visitors would help pay for the $300 million in construction bonds used to build Truist Park.

When hotel revenue plummets, local residents and businesses have to pay a larger share of the county’s $16.4 million annual debt payment through their property taxes, leaving less money available for essential public services.

With travel rebounding, Cobb’s proposed budget calls for hotel taxes to contribute $1.8 million next fiscal year toward the bonds. That would more than cover the $1.5 million contribution expected toward stadium debt payment.

In the current fiscal year, Cobb commissioners budgeted zero in hotel taxes toward the stadium, saying the full amount would be needed to cover the county’s debt payments on the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, which is located nearby.

Even with the jump in hotel taxes, visitors will still pay less than promised toward the debt. A special $3 room night fee charged in the Cumberland area was supposed to contribute $2.7 million a year toward debt service, but commissioners over the years have diverted some of the money toward other expenses, such as police overtime, tourism promotion and a circulator bus.

In the proposed budget, which commissioners will be asked to adopt later this month, the room fee will contribute just $1.2 million toward the stadium debt.

ExploreCupid proposes $1.2B Cobb County budget with no new taxes

General fund property taxes are budgeted to contribute $3.6 million — down from the $6.4 million proposed — sparing homeowners some of the costs. Cumberland-area businesses will chip in more to make up the difference. If the budget is adopted, special business district property taxes will pay $8.8 million next year toward the bonds, up from a planned $5.2 million.