ACWORTH — Speaking to an audience of nearly 80 residents in the North Cobb Senior Center, county Chairman Mike Boyce earned what was bound to be some expected applause over one component of his 2020 budget proposal.
“I have so many emails telling me, ‘Do not do this’: get rid of the senior fees, but I just feel I had to do it,” Boyce said, jokingly, referring to a monthly $5 fee on residents who wish to use the county’s senior centers. The fee took effect last year.
In the first of his two town halls of the day Thursday afternoon, Boyce outlined his plan to maintain the county’s general fund millage rate of 8.46 mills. The rate is the result of a property tax increase of 1.7 mills approved by a 3-2 vote at a July commissioner meeting.
Though he would not be proposing one for next year’s budget, Boyce said a property tax rate decrease could be a possibility in future budgets. “Not this year, because we still have so many unfunded requirements to be met, but the economy’s on fire right now, and there’s a possibility that sometime in the future, we can do a roll back, but it won’t be this year,” he said.
Boyce’s proposed senior fee elimination, which would amount to about $153,000, is part of a more than $11 million proposal he is hoping to include in next year’s general fund budget, much of the cost of which, he says, will be picked up by non-recurring expenses that were spent last year but not budgeted this year. An increased tax digest could also pick up some or most of the cost.
The lion’s share of Boyce’s $11 million ask, $7.2 million, would cover a 3-percent across-the-board pay increase for all county employees.
Another $2.35 million would be used to reduce the rate of the county’s water transfer down from its current 10 percent. Cobb has been at its water rate transfer cap of 10 percent since fiscal 2017, which in fiscal 2018 amounted to the moving of $21.14 million of water revenues into the county’s general fund, with a $21.07 million transfer budgeted for the current fiscal 2019.
The remaining portion of Boyce’s ask would include $800,000 to restore Sunday hours at all county libraries and put half a million toward addressing the opioid crisis and the issue of newborn baby deaths.
Thursday’s stop on the town hall tour, like prior sessions, also featured a top-level look at the county’s long-term transit and transportation timeline. It was held two days after county commissioners approved a CobbLinc Transit Service Plan that will roll out Sunday bus service. The county has set a target date of July 1 to implement Sunday service, which will be enacted as part of the plan’s first phase, and also includes bus route realignments and schedule updates, as well as the addition of a Route 10X that will use the state’s newest toll lanes to travel between Kennesaw and Atlanta.
The second phase of the CobbLinc Transit Service Plan will see the county replace its FLEX bus service in south Cobb with a partnership with ride-sharing companies such as Lyft, Uber and taxicabs. The Transit Service Plan sets no firm start date for the TNC Partnership Zone, only specifying an implementation after this summer.
Further down the road is a possible vote in Cobb to levy a new sales tax of up to 1 percent to pay for new transit projects.
Teresa Holland, a veterinarian who operates Fair Oaks Veterinary Hospital in Marietta, shared her views on transit expansion with Boyce.
“We need to expand transit. We need to really think about heavy rail,” Holland said. “It would decrease congestion, it’s better for the environment, your employees could get to work on time. I have employees who can’t make it to work on time because the bus is late — it really throws a big monkey wrench in your day.”
Boyce’s town halls continue Tuesday with sessions at 3 and 7 p.m. at the West Cobb Senior Center, 4915 Dallas Highway in Powder Springs. Two more will be held at March 28 at the American Legion Hall, 3282 Florence Road in Powder Springs, also set for 3 and 7 p.m.