County officials: Cobb could lose $41M if four cities are formed

Bill to create city of East Cobb is one step closer to becoming a reality

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Bill to create city of East Cobb is one step closer to becoming a reality

If voters in unincorporated Cobb County elect to create four new cities later this year, the county government would lose as much as $45.7 million in annual revenue, while seeing only minimal savings on what it spends to provide public services, officials say.

County department heads provided the estimates to Cobb’s Board of Commissioners at a special session Tuesday night, after staff cobbled together a rough snapshot of what the cityhood movements in East Cobb, Lost Mountain, Mableton and Vinings would mean.

The bottom line to the county would be a net loss of $41.4 million annually after $4.3 million in savings, according to Bill Volckmann, the county’s chief financial officer.

Volckmann said the county could save another $9.7 million annually in future years by eliminating some staff positions and forgoing planned hires, but on balance the county would still be left with more than a $31 million hole in its budget.

Notably, Volckmann said the county would also lose some hotel-motel taxes to the cities of Mableton and Vinings. Today, that money helps pay off debt the county issued to construct Truist Park, where the Atlanta Braves play.

The estimates fall short of a comprehensive financial impact study.

Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, a Democrat from Southwest Cobb, said county officials were in talks to commission such a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and would have had one complete ahead of a November referendum.

However, Republican state lawmakers this year moved up the proposed votes to the May primary for all but the city of Mableton in South Cobb. That was done over the objections of Democrats and county officials who pleaded for more time to prepare.

The Mableton cityhood bill allows the county Board of Elections to choose between May and November, with the latter appearing more likely. On Wednesday, the Mableton measure passed unanimously out of legislative committee and now advances to the House floor.

By far the largest financial impact would come from a city of East Cobb, which is the only one of the four that plans to provide public safety services. The county would lose $23.5 million in revenue to the new city, while saving as little as $450,000 in expenses.

The bill to authorize a vote on East Cobb has passed the General Assembly and awaits the governor’s signature. The three others are still pending at various stages of the legislative process.

It was not immediately clear how the county arrived at its figures or why the county wouldn’t save more money. All four cities plan to provide planning and zoning, code enforcement and parks and recreation. Some would provide additional services, such as sanitation and road maintenance.

Most of the projected savings would come from the cities taking over park maintenance. In some cases, the cities to be formed simply don’t require much spending from the other departments today, so the county won’t save much money when a city government takes over.

Lost Mountain in West Cobb, for instance, covers 15% of the county’s land area, but only accounts for about 5% of code enforcement inspections, so the county only has one such officer assigned there, said Jessica Guinn, the county community development director.

Mableton, meanwhile covers 11% of the county’s land, but commands 25% of all code enforcement inspections in the county. The city plans to hire four code enforcement officers — the same as Cobb devotes to the area today — but Guinn said the area really needs at least six.

“We’re not able to do anything proactive,” she said. “It’s all strictly reactive.”

County officials said they had a number of unanswered questions themselves. The feasibility studies completed on behalf of the proposed cities provide only vague details in many cases.

“We’re not here to advocate, but we’re here to educate,” said Randy Crider, Cobb’s public safety director. “Over the last several months, I’ve been asked a lot of questions that I don’t have answers for.”

Residents can access more information on the proposed cities on the county’s website at cobbcounty.org/cityhood.