Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee gave his State of the County address before a crowd of about 500 people at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center Jan. 9.
Lee cited many cost-cutting moves the commission made leading up to the most recent budget, including restricting hiring, freezing wages, reducing the budget by $25 million in 2009, reducing it by another $8 million in 2010, privatized solid waste to save $5 million annually and reduced the payroll by $6 million in 2011.
From 2007 to 2010 the country deferred regular maintenance and capital investments in the county infrastructure, he said.
"Putting off these important expenses was a good tactic for a short period of time, but as the downturn in the economy lingered on, we reached a point where our infrastructure was showing signs of neglect, disrepair, and – in some instances – were becoming unsafe," Lee said.
"To put off maintenance and repair any longer would result in higher costs and possibly closing some facilities until much needed repairs could be accomplished."
And despite employee furloughs, a 10 percent reduction in operating budgets and closing two senior facilities, the commission still faced a $32 million shortage for the 2012 budget and $4 million in increased health care costs, he said.
"Some say we needed to drastically reduce Cobb County services for us to prosper. I disagreed," he said. "To understand the significance of $36 million dollars in cuts, we would need to shut down both the Parks, Recreational and Cultural Affairs division and all but four major libraries, eliminate many county operations plus make significant reductions to services.
"I recognize that some Cobb County residents are struggling, some even to make ends meet week to week," he said. "Businesses have struggled as well. And the unemployment rate, although dropping in Cobb, is the highest it has been in years.
"But, to only make cuts to balance the budget, was unacceptable to me... for the quality of life for our citizens to be able to attract new jobs and the ability for Cobb County to maintain its competitiveness in economic development efforts."
Lee said the county’s "Triple A" was in jeopardy, with the three bond rating agencies telling the government that it needed a more stable budget.
As a result, the county board of commissions agreed to raise the millage by .9 mills for the general fund, .5 mills for the fire fund and .11 mills for the debt service fund.
Lee said even with those increases, the adopted 2012 general fund is smaller than it was in 2011. The millage rate remains the lowest in the metro Atlanta area.
The three bond rating agencies renewed the "Triple A" status for 2011, making Cobb one of only 36 counties in the nation with the designation.
Lee also described the success of the 2005 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, with 256 out of 302 Department of Transportation projects either completed or under construction.
Similarly, the SPLOST program resulted in a $63 million Superior Courthouse in downtown Marietta, a $110 million jail expansion and $27 million in improvements to the Public Safety emergency radio communications system.
In March, county voters approved another four year SPLOST for transportation facilities, libraries, senior services, courts, public health, repairs to parks and needed equipment for Public Safety.
"We would have had to raise the millage 1.2 mills for 20 years to realize the same much-needed revenue," Lee said.
Voters will be asked to consider the Transportation Investment Act in July, which will establish a 10-year sales tax to fund improvements throughout the region.
"The TIA is about addressing the quality of life for the region, which includes Cobb, through improved transportation solutions," he said. "The decision to support the effort will ultimately be up to you. I only ask that you take the time to educate yourself on the initiative as well as its potential benefits to the region and Cobb County."
Lee said the county is currently in good financial shape because of the tough decisions made during the past year.
"Cobb County is ready for anything 2012 may throw at it, because in 2011, we took the necessary steps to ensure that Cobb’s quality of life, financial stability, job growth and service are second to none," Lee said. "Cobb County is still, and will continue to be, the best place to live, work, play and earn a world-class education."
The public can view the county’s 2011 annual report online at 2011 Annual Report. Cobb County no longer prints copies in order to save money.