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Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 11:57am

Braves' Move Vote Done, But Questions Remain

The Cobb County Commission’s vote Tuesday to OK public funds for a new Atlanta Braves ballpark will mean higher taxes for businesses around the area where the stadium will be built. Longtime resistance to higher taxes in the county and in Georgia could mean public opposition to the project won’t end anytime soon.

Cobb County will spend about $300 million to lure the Braves. That includes a new tax on nearby commercial and apartment buildings, and a share of existing property taxes.

Watchdog agencies and Tea Party groups with a history of waging long public battles over tax dollars have voiced concern.

Cobb County Commission Chair Tim Lee says he’s prepared for an ongoing public debate over the project.

But he says affected businesses and others have looked at the plan, and concluded the stadium will expand the county’s economy.

“They studied it and they said, ‘You know what, that additional taxation on our businesses, on our communities, will be paid back in spades through the increased revenues and opportunities that we have as a business to grow,” he said in an interview at GPB. “So although it’s a tax, they see it as an investment in their business.”

He said it’s his job to make difficult decisions, and he accepts this vote will resurface come re-election time. He was the public face for Cobb County, for example, for the transportation sales tax vote, which failed.

And he said this is an opportunity to make Cobb County a more central part of the region – which he says, is a good thing and in keeping with the Cobb Way.

The watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, meanwhile, is asking the Commission to disclose more details of the financing deal. And it wants increased public input in the process.

Terry Taylor is a board member of Common Cause who lives in Cobb County. He says his group isn’t against the Braves’ move or even public financing for the stadium.

But he says the commission rushed to seal the deal.

“If I’m at the dealership and the salesman is telling me, ‘Hurry, you have to buy this car,’ I tell myself ‘Wait’,” he said.

And he says Cobb County shouldn’t have to accommodate the Braves’ rush to ink the deal.

“I don’t think I should pay for someone else’s short timetable,” he said. “Chairman Lee said, ‘To do this, we have to do it in this short amount of time because that’s how the deal is coming together.’ As a Cobb County resident, I’m thinking, ‘That’s not my problem. That’s not my fault’.”

Taylor also said as an investment professional, he considers financial documents for such deals not easy to grasp.

“Something like public financing for a stadium is complex stuff: this isn’t easy. It’s done by professionals – that’s what they do,” he said. “To get up to speed on that in 12 days is an awesome task.”

He says the Commission should release its economic analysis, including best and worst case scenarios.

The Commission has more votes ahead to create two special tax districts to pay for the stadium.


Joshua Stewart and Clay Bolton