Tim Lee steamed at reports he siphoned off parks money for Braves stadium (but yeah, he sure did)

Cobb County Commission chair Tim Lee has spoken out about yesterday’s report that the commission diverted money from a public parks project approved by voters to the Atlanta Braves stadium deal, saying it’s all a load of hooey:

“Contrary to several unsourced and wholly fictitious news articles, Cobb County didn’t choose the Braves stadium over buying green space and it won’t need to raise taxes to do so,” Lee said, in a statement. “We have cut taxes for three straight years in Cobb County because we’ve focused on policies that promote economic growth — and they’ve worked.”

I went back to the original Atlanta Journal Constitution article detailing the parks bond controversy, and checked in with its author Dan Klepal as well, and I’m comfortable saying that Lee’s statement is a case of he who smelt hooey dealt it. The story is a bit complicated, but it goes something like this:

  • In 2006, Cobb County voters approved a property tax hike to pay for $40 million in bonds for public parkland. The tax was raised, and the parks were bought.
  • Two years later, Cobb County voters approved another $40 million in park bonds, to be funded by the same property tax surcharge. Cobb County Commission’s then-chair Sam Olens, however, never issued the bonds, because he worried the tax hike would have to be extended to pay for it.
  • In 2013, Lee and his fellow commissioners, needing money to shovel at the Braves for their new stadium, realized that the 2006 park bonds would be paid off in 2017, and that property tax hike cash would just be sitting there for the taking. So he took it, extending the tax surcharge for another 30 years, just like Olens didn’t want to do, but taking the money away from the parks budget, just like Cobb voters didn’t want him to do.

Lee now says he can come up with about half the money to pay for the voter-approved parks purchase without raising taxes, which I guess he sees as justifying the statement that “Cobb County didn’t choose the Braves stadium over buying green space.” (We can do both! If you don’t mind the green space being a bit less, uh, spacious.) But as far as taking a tax hike that was approved in order to fund public parks and instead funneling it into a private baseball stadium, yeah, he totally did that. You’d think he’d at least have the courage to wear it with pride, but politicians on the verge of getting voted out of office will do some desperate things.


16 comments on “Tim Lee steamed at reports he siphoned off parks money for Braves stadium (but yeah, he sure did)

  1. So they raised the funds and yet….the park land is there and is not there. Even my cats, let alone even Schrodinger’s cat would see this does not add up.

    By the way….I assume that the new Braves park will have some type of year round usage associated with it. Unlike…gee…..REAL PARKS. But I could be wrong…seeing that utility concept is there like the Thrashers still are LOL.

  2. Believe it or not, Neil, but sometimes property values rise and fall. In addition — as galling as it is — sometimes new developments happen more slowly or quickly than expected.

    I know that your mind has been blown, so I’ll give you a minute.

    Now, if any of the above happens, then property tax revenues will come in either below or above expectations.

    Again, I’ll give you a minute to digest that incredible idea.

    So, if the late double-oh’s housing collapse happens, then property tax revenues will be down and the expected money to purchase park land won’t be there.

    (That part already happened.)

    And if property values rise due to the new Braves stadium and its associated development, then Cobb County will have extra money available to eventually purchase the promised park land, without raising taxes.

    (And if the Braves stadium doesn’t cause property tax revenue to increase and the parks never end up getting bought, then you and the AJC writer will have a point.)

    • Okay, but Tim Lee isn’t saying “I took money that was supposed to go to parks and spent it on a stadium, but the stadium will generate enough new money to pay for parks.” He called it “fictitious” that he’d redirected the money at all, when that’s exactly what he did.

      (Meanwhile, I’d be interested to see how much property values would need to rise to create $40 million in new tax revenue. Anybody with knowledge of millage rates feel like doing the calculation? I gotta go meet with an editor.)

      • Neil, Lee is correct.

        The decision had already been made (legally, I might add) to not acquire the park land. At that point, the tax increase was no longer “money for parks”. The accusation is “fictitious”.

        And, yes, it is altogether possible that increases in property tax revenues won’t result in enough money to pay off the stadium bonds. I’m guessing that it will. Time will tell.

        • Ben,

          Naturally, when Tim Lee loses an election–it won’t be because of mismanaged finances related to this ridiculous stadium, it will because of millage rates, right?

          We can give you a minute to think this over too–but it stands to reason that “improved” land will have a higher tax value than “unimproved” land. It is also possible that a business park could be successful with no stadium at all–the way most business parks and hotels are built, by the way! So in this case, it isn’t the absolute number that is relevant for evaluation–it is the number relative to expectations and relative to added costs to the public.

          You set your evaluation bar too low, as usual, and conflate correlation with causation.

    • “(And if the Braves stadium doesn’t cause property tax revenue to increase and the parks never end up getting bought, then you and the AJC writer will have a point.)”
      ________

      No, they have a valid point irregardless how anything else turns out. Nobody other than you has made a connection between property tax increases/decreases and this issue. Lee certainly isn’t claiming that because according to him money was never diverted in any way.

  3. Neil, good luck with the editor….

    As for the math on the property values, while I am not well versed on the formulas, it would be safe to assume the percentages would need to be high . Or….the county would have to be the beneficiary of quite a few well-heeled people or businesses moving in, with property values going into an orbit, like near L-5. (Think in terms of the entire upper management structure of Delta or Coca-Cola, etc….and one can get the idea).

  4. The increase in property taxes (by adjusting the millage rate) was stated to result in an extra $26/yr on a tax bill for a $200,000 home. What they haven’t said is that the Fair Market Value (FMV) on Cobb tax assessment statements is being artificially increased to boost the $ gained by the higher millage rate. My 2016 statement shows a FMV for 2016 that is 25.7% higher than 2016, while actual appraisals (from 2013 and 2015) reflect an average market value appreciation of 3.8%.

    I am appealing the assessment and I hope that others do the same. I also hope that other media outlets pick up on this.

    • In you last sentence do you mean FMV that is $25.7% higher than 2015?

      Also this Lee guy is a total tool. The worst aspect of our system of government.

      • Whoops, yes that was a typo. 2016 FMV on my tax bill was 25.7% higher than 2015, the primary contributor to the increase in the bill amount.

  5. My notice of single family home assessment indicates a ridiculous 39% increase in FMV assessment. There is no (zero) basis that points to anything above an ~3% appreciation in value. Quality of life for those commuting and living in the Marietta/Cobb area has plummeted.

    • I imaging it may have to do with all the TIF money allocated to build all those crackerjack-box apartments and ridiculous looking McMansions that are a urine-stream distance away from each other.

      Being in South Cobb, I always liked (driving through) the Smyrna area, and considered living there. Seeing as how new homes are $400k+ (and townhomes are $300k) and older homes are virtually in the *same* price range I think I’ll stick to Six Flags Drive.

    • To be fair the valuations usually change in big jerks because if a house has been increasing invalid 4% a year and you haven’t reassessed it for 6 years there will be a big difference in value. Particularly if say 4 years ago you added on a bathroom and bedroom. People get all indignant and are like “nothing changes from last year”, ignoring the fact that the lasts year’s was way too low.

      I would worry a lot less about whether the change was “too much” and a lot more about whether the valuation actually represents what you would get on the market. Check recent sales of similar houses and be honest.

      A lot of time when people go to court over this they look like idiots after 5 questions, because they are just being greedy and not actually thinking about how the process works.

  6. Tim Lee is just plain lying when he says:

    “We have cut taxes for three straight years in Cobb County…”

    Tim Lee voted to raise property taxes 9 times as a Cobb commissioner, the two most recent times being last year (2015) and the year before that.

    All of the gory details can be found here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B1XZuGH9jOrJT05IZEFTRFNDcG8

  7. FYI, here’s how Cobb County’s own FAQ describes the stadium funding:

    “Currently .33 mills of your property taxes pay for the parks bonds that were issued in 1996, 2007 and 2008. The last of those bonds will be paid off in 2017 and 2018. The millage will then be shifted to the General Fund when these bonds expire to raise an equivalent amount of revenues of $8.67 million. Those monies will then be used to pay for bonds to finance SunTrust Park construction.”

    http://cobbcounty.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2713&Itemid=698

    The last of “these bonds,” of course, are actually the 2007 ones, because the 2008 ones were never sold, and now probably won’t be because the money to pay for them has been “shifted” to the stadium.

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