Cobb County is taking money allocated for parkland and spending it on Braves stadium

One of the trickiest parts of understanding the stadium game is figuring out the tricky finances used by team owners (and local elected officials on their behalf) to fund new buildings. This is intentional: In a world where handing over a $300 million check from the public treasury to a private sports team is considered gauche (or at least likely to get you tarred and feathered by constituents), it’s important to have a convincing cover story claiming that, no, it’s not really a public subsidy.

For Cobb County, part of that cover story has been that taking $8.6 million a year in existing sales-tax surcharges and devoting it to a new Atlanta Braves stadium doesn’t really cost taxpayers anything, because they were going to be paying the tax anyway. Except that some people, including reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, have noticed that the tax was originally approved in 2006 so that Cobb County could buy parkland, and voters there specifically authorized bonds to buy parkland in a 2008 vote, but instead Cobb County sat on the money and is now using it for a stadium:

After the successful 2006 referendum, which resulted in the purchase of 387 acres, voters went back to the polls and approved a second parks bond referendum in 2008. Although the measure passed with 67 percent of voters’ approval, the county commission never issued those bonds and no additional green space was ever purchased.

Jim Dugan served on the Cobb Parks Coalition, which worked to get parks referendum on ballots, and then served on the committee that evaluated undeveloped land for possible purchase. Dugan said the county has a moral obligation to either take the tax rate off the books or dedicate the revenue for more parks, in fulfillment of the 2008 vote.

Bah, “moral obligations.” How many divisions have they got?

Roger Buerki, who served on the committee that identified parks purchases in 2006, likewise called the sales-tax redirection a “sleight of hand” and “unseemly,” adding: “The commissioners might want to see an audiologist. They hear the Braves just fine, but they don’t hear the voters.” You say that like it’s a bug, Roger, but it’s really a feature.

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7 comments on “Cobb County is taking money allocated for parkland and spending it on Braves stadium

  1. You’re Don Walker-ing, Neil. This is the same thing we’ve known since the deal was announced. What’s new here?

  2. We knew about the existing tax revenue being used, but I, for one, was not aware until now that the money had been previously allocated for parkland but then never spent.

    (Also, should “Don Walker-ing” be considered a personal attack? And if so, on me, on Don Walker, or on both? Discuss!)

  3. What amazes me is there really doesn’t need to be any accountability here at all. Just take the money the taxpayers approved for something else entirely! What are they gonna do, arrest us? Maybe they should; this is just flat-out theft.

  4. So tell me Chairman Lee, why should Cobb voters ever vote for a SPLOST tax if you and your fellow commissioners choose to hide the money and use it for your own purposes ? First you hide the whole Braves deal from Cobb voters, and now you secretly divert funds the voters allocated for parks to shore up suspect bond funding. This goes far beyond lack of transparency to outright deception.

  5. I’m not quite sure, Ben, how pointing this fact out again, or separately from the larger fiasco that was the Cobb County stadium deal, is somehow a bad thing. This is a novel situation because a handful of parks is usually the hostage payment for giving a team a whole new stadium, albeit with minimal follow up (re: the Yankees). But this may be a first where the stadium DIRECTLY takes away park funding, you know, different than taking it indirectly by pouring millions of dollars into huge boondoggles.

  6. Just to clarify, was the 2006 tax used for buying land but the 2008 tax was not correct?
    http://www.athleticbusiness.com/stadium-arena/parks-supporters-galled-by-braves-stadium-tax-diversion-br.html

    Thanks,

  7. Yes, 2006’s tax resulted in the purchase of 387 acres. The 2008 ref resulted in no purchases.
    http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local/braves-deal-angers-cobb-county-park-advocates/nkpbX/#cmCommentAnchor

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