‘Leakage’ of Cobb funds to Chamber makes no sense

By Ron Sifen

With every new revelation, Cobb taxpayers have more and more questions about the relationship between Cobb County, the Cobb Development Authority and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. How many of our tax dollars are involved and what do Cobb taxpayers get for their money?

Previously we had the question of whether Cobb County was going to pay the Cobb Chamber to take over the Economic Development Department.

Recently we had the revelations that the Cobb Development Authority had been voting on financial decisions without having all of the information about the items they were voting on.

Then we learned that Cobb County pays the Chamber $96,000 per year for something having to do with the Development Authority, reportedly to pay for an office. That seems expensive for an office. Is that all that Cobb gets for $96,000?

Furthermore, over the last five years Cobb has paid more than $500,000, so they have paid more than $96,000 per year, but we don’t know why. Also, a question has arisen as to whether Cobb County has been issuing bonds for the Development Authority and collecting fees from those bonds that should have been going into the county’s General Fund, but instead are reportedly being transferred to the Chamber.

What is the relationship between Cobb County and the Chamber of Commerce? How much of the taxpayers’ money is Cobb County paying or transferring to the Chamber, and what is Cobb County getting for this money? Is this something the County needs to be spending money on, and is this the most cost-effective way to get these services?

Now we learn that there is a new $1.5 million EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy) program.

After reviewing the EDGE information, it looks like a glitzy economic development plan with recommendations and an action plan. The action plan includes “educating” citizens to have more favorable opinions about services Cobb already provides, and about the presumed light rail currently being studied. This section reminded me of the scene from the movie “Dave,“ where Dave questions whether government needs to spend millions of dollars to convince people to have a better opinion of a car that they already own.

Cobb taxpayers need answers to a lot of questions. For instance:

  • What costs $96,000 per year? If it is office space, as reported, Cobb County owns buildings, like the property where the Community Development Department is located. If the Development Authority is a Cobb County department, why could this office not be located in a building that the County already owns? If the Development Authority is not a Cobb County department, why is Cobb County paying $96,000 for their office space? And why is Cobb County also transferring these bond fees to the Chamber?
  • Cobb County has an Economic Development Department. I don’t know how many Cobb tax dollars were paid to the consultants to produce the EDGE concept and action plan. But now that we have this plan, why is this not something that could be performed by the already existing Cobb Economic Development Department, at no additional cost to taxpayers? Or even if the Economic Development Department needed an extra employee, it still looks like a tiny fraction of $1.5 million?
  • How much did Cobb County contribute (directly or by transferring our tax dollars to other entities) to the cost of this EDGE study? Is Cobb County now careening toward spending large additional amounts of taxpayer dollars annually for something that we already have the resources to perform at a dramatically lower cost through our already existing Economic Development Department?
  • And I am just flat out opposed to spending any taxpayer dollars to “educate” Cobb citizens about why they should like an ultra-expensive light rail plan that may be designed purely for economic development and will not help to alleviate traffic congestion.
  • What is the relationship between Cobb County and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce? How many total tax dollars has Cobb County been paying or transferring to the Cobb Chamber over the last few years, and what services have the Chamber provided to Cobb County? Could the County use already existing County departments, offices, and employees to achieve the same results more cost-effectively?

At some point, Cobb taxpayers must demand some transparency, accountability, and fiscal restraint.

Cobb County has a reputation for fiscal responsibility. The evidence is growing that Cobb is moving away from that tradition, and is “leaking” more and more money on expenditures that may not make sense for taxpayers.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on January 25, 2012

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