Has Cobb Seen Its Better Days?
By Lance Lamberton
Recently I was asked this question by a local journalist and responded by saying that it does not lend itself to a simple yes or no answer. If the answer is “yes”, than the assumption is that nothing can be done to return to better times. If 'no” then we are likewise assuming we can predict the future with some degree of accuracy. Since I do not possess a crystal ball, I will punt and answer “it depends.”
It depends, unfortunately, on what the federal government will do or not do to deal with the housing crisis, the national debt, taxes, and a plethora of issues whose final resolution will chart the course for our nation's future. As the nation goes, so goes Cobb County, as Cobb is a microcosm of our economy.
Having said that, there is a great which can be done on the local level to improve Cobb's future prospects. First and foremost is to reduce County taxes and bring spending in line with reduced revenues. In 2011, with passage of last year's SPLOST, we missed out on a chance to make Cobb's sales tax rate the lowest in the state. This missed opportunity was compounded when the Board of Commissioners raised the millage rate in the midst of a down economy.
However, there is hope to provide a course correction. The Citizen's Oversight Committee, established by the Commission to recommend cost savings in the operation of County Government, is in the process of preparing its final report. This represents an opportunity to provide more efficient delivery of government services, not just in the short-term, but for several years to come. If successful, the implementation of the Committee's recommendations holds the prospect of not only weathering the County's current fiscal crisis, but of providing a new paradigm for the way the County conducts its business, leading to surpluses in the good times which can a.) result in tax reduction; and b.) establish a rainy day fund when the economy inevitably goes south again.
The challenges are formidable. With passage of the 2011 SPLOST, the County is committed to building and maintaining new infrastructure when it can't even afford to maintain what we already have. Moreover, with the threat of yet another sales tax increase if the Transportation Investment Act tax is passed, the County's residents are faced with a daunting future.
If we choose to kick the can down the road and increase the tax burden then “yes”, Cobb's better days will be behind us. Alternatively, if we make the politically inexpedient choice of standing up to Cobb's legion of spending interests inside and outside our government, then we can look forward to a return to better times. The choice is ours.
Lance Lamberton lives in Austell, and is the president and founder of the Cobb Taxpayers Association (www.cobbtaxpayer.com)