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Cobb Chairman: County credit rating at risk without tax hike

Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce told constituents that if the board doesn’t pass his proposed tax increase next month, the county could lose its AAA credit rating. 

“That’s not a threat. That’s a fact,” Boyce said Monday night during the second in a series of town hall meetings to discuss the budget and millage rate. 

Two of the largest rating agencies recently reaffirmed Cobb’s rating but downgraded its outlook to “negative” citing “fiscal challenges.” 

The county is facing a minimum $30 million budget shortfall. Boyce has proposed a 1.7 mill increase to cover the gap. That amounts to an annual increase of $85 for every $50,000 of taxable property value, according to the county.

Boyce is on a tour to sell voters on what he calls a “restoration budget” to keep or increase services to pre-recession levels.  In addition to addressing rising payroll, healthcare and pension costs, the chairman is promising to use the funds for more police officers, better road maintenance and restoring Sunday library hours.

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Some county departments, including parks and libraries, have prepared contingency plans to close facilities if Cobb is unable to close the budget gap

Critics have questioned the need for a tax hike, pointing to Cobb’s record high tax digest and spending on the Braves stadium--$8.6 million a year out of the general fund. Additionally, the county approved a new pay scale and more money for parks.

According to Boyce, a millage rate increase is still needed because 52 percent of properties in the county have a floating homestead exemption, which freezes the taxable value of the home. He needs at least two out of four commissioners to back his proposal for it to pass.

Reese Munch, a retiree from Mableton, garnered applause when he rose to tell the chairman that he would support his tax hike--but only this once.

“I just want this budget to pass so we don’t have to come back next year to do the same thing,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Munch placed the blame for the county’s fiscal woes at the feet of past administrations that “got us into trouble.”

Shelley Callico, a teacher from West Cobb, said she supported the proposed increase to fully fund libraries. 

“I have never voted for a tax increase in my life,” she said. “I am willing to accept and pay for a tax increase in order to have those services.” 

But South Cobb resident Richard Megargee wasn’t convinced. 

Boyce “gave me the la-da-da that my tax dollars aren’t going up,” he said. But the homestead exemption only applies to the county general fund—his overall tax bill will still rise. 

“Anyway you cut it, it is a tax increase,” Megargee said. “Just, no.”

The next town hall on the budget and millage rate is scheduled for Wednesday at the West Cobb Senior Center.

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