October - December 2018
For those of you who have read this space over the years and/or know me well, you probably are aware that I generally tend to be less than optimistic in outlook. To me, instead of being half empty or half full, the glass is usually simply oversized. Maybe it’s the engineering training. Finally, however, I think that the County may have turned a corner and is now headed in the right direction. There are still significant problems (inadequate compensation, concerns about the pension, politics intruding on our ability to provide quality service, etc.), but the water rate and millage adjustments approved by the Board of Commissioners on July 10 and July 25, respectively, gives some hope that we can restore and maintain some level of excellence as a County.
The water rate adjustment is projected to result in increased revenues of nearly 10% in 2019. Our last rate increase was in 2012. Since then, our costs have increased substantially and we have been required to spend down our reserves to balance the budget. The increase, while not solving all of our funding needs, will at least allow us to stop draining reserves (what little we have left) and begin our return to a financially sound operating basis. Without this rate increase, I believe that we would have lost our exceptional credit rating (triple AAA) in the upcoming year. With the increase, it’s likely that the rating agencies will give us a little more time to stabilize our financial situation before making any changes. The vote on the proposed increase was 3-2, with the District 1 and 4 Commissioners, as well as the Chairman, in favor. The District 3 Commissioner opposed the increase because the transfer from the Water Fund to the General Fund is to be continued. The District 2 Commissioner did not attend the meeting, but has historically opposed our proposed rate increases. I have expressed our appreciation to those who were willing to take a politically dangerous position and support our efforts to continue to provide quality service.
The July 25 vote on the proposed millage increase was much more publicized than the water rate adjustment. For the FY19 budget, it was necessary to either increase the millage rate or substantially reduce costs. The Chairman ultimately proposed a budget and millage rate (an increase of 1.7 mils) that not only accommodated our current level of service, but began to address some of the costs that had been deferred for a number of years. The District 4 Commissioner would have supported an even larger increase that would return us more or less immediately to a fully funded condition. The District 1 Commissioner was the “swing” vote, but ultimately supported the Chairman’s proposal with a few reservations. The District 2 and 3 Commissioners both opposed the magnitude of the Chairman’s proposed increase and voted in opposition, but acknowledged that some level of increase was needed.
While the water and millage adjustments will provide some immediate relief and hope for the future, the Chairman was not able to include merit in the approved budget for FY19. He has committed to address this issue in the FY20 budget. In the meantime, department managers continue to work diligently to emphasize to the BOC the need to provide support for staff who have continued to provide quality service to the residents of Cobb County and enhance staff compensation levels as quickly as possible.
While I am guardedly optimistic that the County may finally be headed back in the right direction, I urge you all to take every opportunity to express yourselves by voting in local, state, and national elections. It’s important that the thoughts of us all, rather than just those of a noisy few, be known to decision makers at all levels.