Cobb chairman talks reopening, budget and taxes amid pandemic

Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce shared many bright points in Cobb’s present and future during his State of the County address on Jan. 7. AJC file photo
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Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce shared many bright points in Cobb’s present and future during his State of the County address on Jan. 7. AJC file photo

Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce addressed reopening during the pandemic and what comes next for the county during a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

AJC: Has it been difficult to continue the work of the county under lockdown? 

I think it’s going pretty smoothly considering that last week we had our first board meeting in a month. The board meeting lasted an hour and 15 minutes. It just shows that the staff knows what they have to do and they’re doing it ... Quite honestly, I think it’s a validation that the policies we have in place are working. 

AJC: Do you think Gov. Brian Kemp made the right decision to reopen the state? 

He has 159 counties he has to deal with. He has challenges that I can’t even imagine. He’s trying to balance the health of the community with the economic sustainability. That’s a tough call. We’ll see what happens around that. I’m doing all I can do support him in a way that I feel is responsible.

AJC: What are you hearing from the county public health department? 

Their biggest concern from day one has been the virus getting into the nursing homes and long-term care facilities… a significant number of cases  in this county leading to the passing of people have been in nursing homes. [Cobb and Douglas Public Health Director Janet Memark] is trying to respond to the mandates from the Georgia Department of Public Health with the assets she has. It’s always about manpower and trying to ramp up ... I think she’s done a really good job. 

AJC: What’s next for Cobb? 

The biggest challenge we have is the unknown. I think it’s very important to emphasize that the virus is still out there; it’s still very dangerous, and so much of this relies on what risk do you want to take by your actions. Everybody knows what they have to do, what the necessary precautions are. But if you venture out of your home, are you doing all you can to mitigate the risks you’re taking? Because we don’t have any known weapons against this virus right now. 

AJC: How do you think the county should spend the $132 million in federal coronavirus relief funds the county has received?

I wish the federal government had just given the money to all these different programs instead of just leaving it to the board. When you do that then you open it up to the political process and then it gets kind of noisy. The staff is putting together [a report] as to what the major functionality areas are for that CARES legislation ... The important thing right now is we come up with an open and transparent process ... we should have something in front of the board certainly before the end of the week.

AJC: How will the coronavirus affect the budget? Do you anticipate a proposed change in millage rate? 

I’m going to leave the millage rate alone. We’re still going to reduce the water fund transfer, but I’ve taken the merit pay off the table. We have to start building our reserves … the last thing we want to do here is wake up sometime in spring next year and realize we don’t have any money and we’ve got to do something drastic. We will continue operations to the end of this fiscal year, the budget won’t be discussed till July and by June we’ll have a pretty good idea of the economic impact of this virus on the local economy. We will take those numbers and make the appropriate adjustments in our budget for 2021. 

AJC: What else do you want people to know now? 

I think it’s important to remember that we’re in for the long haul. I’m waiting to see the impact of the opening of the economy, on the nation, the state and the county, because the thing that has always driven our actions was leveling the curve, making sure that we didn’t exceed the capacity of our healthcare system to handle our COVID patients ... I think it’s important to realize that the governor is driving this and he’s made it very clear what the county can and can’t do … the virus still has the initiative, still has the momentum, and we should not get complacent.

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