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Elections: Taxes likely to dominate May 22 Cobb primaries

Cobb voters heading to the polls for the May 22 primaries will have an opportunity to shape the outcomes of several important local races, including county commission and school board seats. 

County Commission candidates have sought to distinguish themselves on the subjects of taxes, transit, and zoning. The school board races will likely turn on local concerns as well as budgetary issues. 

Partisan winners will face off in November’s general election. 

READ MORE: Rating agencies cite Cobb’s “fiscal challenges”

David Shock, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University, said most voters, particularly Republicans, will likely be motivated by concerns about taxes. The county is facing a $30 to $55 million hole in next year’s budget. Candidates so far are divided on the need for a property tax increase. 

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“It’s not just the county, it’s the local school board that is also having some tight financial times, so there’s the prospect this summer and fall of the county government and the school system both potentially having to raise property taxes,” Shock said. “I think that’s the number one issue.” 

He said concerns about over-development will also be a motivating factor for certain groups, particularly in residential East and West Cobb. 

The issue of mass transit could split voters, Shock said.

Business-friendly Republicans, Democrats and residents living in more urbanized areas of the county are likely to support expanding regional mass transit in Cobb, while some fiscal conservatives and rural residents see such expansion as another expense with no tangible benefit. 

In West Cobb, three fellow Republicans are running against District 1 incumbent Bob Weatherford, a retired Acworth law enforcement officer who has held the seat for four years. With no Democrats in the race, the outcome of the November election will be all but certain after May 22. 

Candidate Keli Gambrill, a consultant who runs People Looking After Neighborhoods, touts her experience as a neighborhood advocate in the zoning process. 

Candidate Melissa O’Brien, a substitute teacher, has also been actively involved in zoning as the head of Preserve West Cobb. 

Candidate Forrest Shealy is an attorney and former prosecutor. 

In East Cobb, Republican incumbent JoAnn Birrell, who has held the seat for eight years, will face local businessman Tom Cheek in the primary. 

Two Democrats have also qualified to run in that race: Caroline Holko, a homemaker with a background in non-profits, and Jim Smith, a retired Cobb Water System employee. 

Both Republicans running for school board seats are incumbents running unopposed in their party primary: School Board Chair David Chastain in District 4 and Scott Sweeney in District 6. 

Come November, Chastain will likely face Democratic challenger Cynthia Parr, who is running unopposed in her party primary. 

Democratic Charissa Davis is also running unopposed in the party primary for the District 6 seat currently held by Sweeney. 

In District 2, Republican incumbent Susan Thayer is not seeking reelection, leaving the field to Democrats Jaha Howard and Angelia Pressley who will face each other in the primary. 

The cities of Smyrna and Kennesaw are also holding special elections on May 22 to fill city council seats. 

Tracey Viars and Kemela Carlson are running to fill the Post 2 seat in Kennesaw. 

Alexander Backry, Shaun Black, Tim Gould, Idella Moore and Brant Suddath are running for the Ward 6 seat in Smyrna.

Early voting is already underway.

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