The Cobb County Commission voted Tuesday to pay the Atlanta Braves $11.8 million for sewer, storm-water and transportation infrastructure in and around SunTrust Park.
The payment is intended to resolve a disagreement over whether the county has met its obligation to fund $14 million in transportation infrastructure.
The $14 million obligation became a source of tension last year when the team attempted to collect the money and Transportation Director Jim Wilgus pushed back, writing in a memo that Cobb had already spent $69.4 million on the stadium. Several months of negotiation followed.
Mounting public outrage over tax-dollar spending on the Braves helped elect Chairman Mike Boyce last year. On Tuesday, Boyce called the county’s obligation to the Braves “a difficult issue to navigate.”
“It is the people’s money,” Boyce said, promising ongoing monitoring of the county’s spending on the Braves.
The motion passed 3-1 with Commissioner Lisa Cupid opposing because the bulk of the money — $11.3 million — had been earmarked for sewer and storm-water infrastructure. Commissioner Bob Ott was absent.
Development Agreement signed by the county and the team on May 27, 2014 included a “transportation improvement contribution” defined as “certain transportation improvements made or to be made by the County costing a minimum aggregate amount of $14 million.” The contribution is outlined in Article 7 as a “Transportation and Infrastructure Agreement” with a subsection dedicated to public infrastructure, including “storm water management, water, gas and elections lines and roads.”
Previous iterations of a list of approved projects were limited to traffic and pedestrian infrastructure.
Cupid explained her objection, noting that the list of projects had been changed substantially.
“While our development agreement does provide breadth to include sewer, with respect to our transportation contribution, I think that this would really cause people to question how direct we are or question our thought in how we turned from transportation oriented projects to the bulk of these projects being for sewer,” Cupid said. “It’s very frustrating to see the amount of rapidity and creativity that’s been used toward this project but not on other pressing matters that concern our public.”
Boyce acknowledged Cupid’s concerns as “valid,” but said the money was “something that the county committed to.”
The chairman reiterated his support for employee raises and more greenspace, both of which have faced funding challenges.
Speaking after the meeting, Boyce said County Attorney Deborah Dance and former County Manager David Hankerson had negotiated the amount to be paid to the Braves down to $11.8 from $14 million after the two parties agreed that the county had already spent $2.2 million on sidewalks, traffic signals, fences and paving.
The Braves will be paid $490,000 out of the county’s General Fund, with the remaining $11.3 million comes from the Water Renewal and Extension Fund.
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