Proposed Cobb short-term rental ordinance changes delayed

During a long meeting Tuesday to make amendments to the county code, Cobb commissioners voted to delay making changes regarding short-term rentals.Johnson Ferry-Shallowford master plan

The proposed changes include limiting rentals to 30 days and requiring owners to have an occupancy license and hiring an agent who could respond to complaints or other issues on short notice.

(You can read it here, on page 2, under Section 134-291. Details are on page 32.)

But after hearing from some property owners, civic leaders and advocates for the short-term rental industry, commissioners said they’ll wait.

That’s because of a bill introduced in the Georgia legislature, HB 523 (you can read it here).

The bill, sponsored by four State House members from other parts of Georgia, would bar local governments from issuing different regulations for properties used for rentals (including through such services as Airbnb) than any other residential properties.

HB 523 also would prohibit local governments from requiring a license or registration for owning a rental property, or from doing inspections or permitting.

The sponsors say local restrictions intrude on personal property rights, but the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia sees the bill as a preemption of local control.

The Cobb code amendments were proposed by East Cobb commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell. The Cobb Planning Commission had asked for a delay to further craft the proposed changes.

“We believe there is a need for the regulation of this very large industry,” said Carol Brown of Canton Road Neighbors, whose group supported holding the short-term rental changes.

An East Cobb resident who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said she rents out a portion of her home to bring in extra income after her husband died.

“Some proposals would make it impossible for people like me,” she said. “I’m just trying to make ends meet. The gig economy is here. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

Katie McClure, a board member of the Short-Term Rental Owners Association of Georgia, said to commissioners that “we ask you to work with us to improve this ordinance.”

In making a motion to hold the short-term rental changes, Ott called for the creation of a task force to include relevant county staff and citizens to work on the ordinance and to monitor HB 523.

The bill has been reported favorably out of the House Regulated Industries Committee and awaits action by the Rules Committee before going to the full House.

 

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Ott announces ‘farewell tour’ of town hall meetings

Bob Ott, town hall meeting
Commissioner Bob Ott presides over a 2018 town hall meeting at the Sewell Mill Library and Cultural Center.

A few weeks after announcing his retirement, Cobb commissioner Bob Ott said Tuesday he still plans to have town hall meetings during his final year in office.

Ott said the first of those town halls will be March 17 at the Chestnut Ridge Christian Church in East Cobb, followed by another town hall at the East Cobb Library in April, as well as one more in Smyrna in May.

Ott’s has regularly held town hall meetings since joining the commission in 2009, and at times they’ve become popular and well-attended affairs, especially depending on the subject matter.

He typically updates constituents on what’s happening in the county as well as District 2—which covers most of East Cobb and the Cumberland/Vinings area—then takes questions.

The biggest turnout, he said, was last March, at the Catholic Church of St. Ann, when he invited members of the East Cobb cityhood group to make their debut presentation to the community.

Ott said Tuesday that what he’s calling his “farewell tour”—a bit tongue in cheek—will conclude with a few more town halls in the fall.

 

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Cobb commission pulls proposal to ban pet store animal sales

Good Mews 30th birthday, Dr. Judy Johnson
Dr. Judy Johnson, veterinarian at the Good Mews cat shelter in East Cobb, criticized commissioners for abandoning a proposed pet sale ban. (ECN file)

The Cobb Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to withdraw a proposed ordinance that would ban the sales of cats and dogs at commercial pet stores.

After that, they heard plenty of complaints from animal advocates, including a veterinarian at an East Cobb cat shelter, for not taking action.

Last month, commissioners were deadlocked 2-2 on the proposed code amendment (read all of them here). Bob Ott, of East Cobb, who missed that meeting, voted Tuesday to shelve the proposed pet sales ban.

During a lengthy public hearing, several citizens and advocates told emotional stories of purchases of pets from Petland in Kennesaw—the only pet store in Cobb that would have been affected by the ban—that were sick or later died.

Animal advocates have long said commercial pet stores purchase animals from puppy mills, sell them to the public at a high price, and don’t address health concerns.

At last month’s meeting, the tie vote occurred after discussion about a ruling from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office that local animal ordinances should not supercede state law.

Some animal advocates argued that the opinion doesn’t have the force of law.

Judy Johnson, a veterinarian with the East Cobb-based Good Mews cat shelter, had been a veterinarian at emergency facilities that treated Petland animals, saying they were ill and little was done when she and others complained to state officials.

“They retain a profit from the purchase, even if the puppy dies,” Johnson said during the public hearing. If pet store animals survive, “they have other health issues, which carry financial burdens.”

She cited growing veterinarian suicide rates, with a leading factor being what she called “compassion fatigue” and eventually left the emergency medicine field.

The pet illnesses and other issues stemming from treating Petland puppies was “emotionally exhausting. . . I had to get away before I became another statistic.”

Related story

Other animal-related measures before the commissioners also are being held for reconsideration.

One is related to a “trap, neuter and release” practice involving feral and stray cats—referred to as community cats—that animal advocates say has proven effective.

Elizabeth Finch, a Good Mews board member and East Cobb resident, said since the shelter took over Cobb TNR cases since late January, it has sterilized 76 cats—45 of them females—who have then been sent back outdoors.

She estimated that has reduced the births of a few hundred kittens.

“Clearly the method works,” said Finch, who said Good Mews’ goal is to neuter or spay 1,000 community and feral cats in Cobb this year.

The commissioners did approve an amendment regulating backyard chickens without a permit, with a limit of one for every 5,000 square feet of lot space on residential lots that are 80,000 square feet or smaller.

The new ordinance permits only hens, which must be kept in a fenced area behind the home and cared for in a manner that eliminates “potential negative effects,” such as odors, pollution, noise and pest and rodent issues.

The new measure also prohibits hens from being slaughtered on the premises.

 

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Gritters Library to host WorkSource Cobb Mobile Career Center

The Cobb County Public Library System is getting out word that the non-profit WorkSource Cobb Mobile Career Center will be conducting several events at Gritters Library this month.CobbWorks employment workshop series

The first session is next Thursday, Feb. 13, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and here are more details about what’s coming up:

Gritters Library is added to the MCC’s monthly schedule after years since its last visit to the library, said Jim Montgomery, WorkSourceCobb/CobbWorks MCC Coordinator.

A Resume Workshop program inside the computer lab on wheels is scheduled during the February 13th visit at 11 a.m. The MCC offers free workforce and job skills development services, wi-fi and more.

Gritters Library Manager Pamela Finley said she expects many Gritters area residents will welcome Mr. Montgomery and the MCC to the library. Gritters Library is located off Canton Road at Shaw Park in northeastern Cobb County.

“I know there is a community need for this service,” she said. “Many of the computer users at Gritters are working on resumes, job applications and job searching.”

The second February visit to Gritters Library is Thursday, February 27, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Mobile Career Center’s February schedule includes late morning and early afternoon hours at public libraries and other locations across Cobb. Resume workshops are included on select dates.

For the full February MCC schedule, visit www.worksourcecobb.org/news-events.

For information on upcoming programs at Gritters Library, visit www.cobbcat.org or call 770-528-2524.

 

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St. Ann Catholic to hold Cobb emergency preparedness training classes

Submitted information:

Cobb CERTThere are two Cobb County Community Emergency Response Team training opportunities in February and residents are encouraged to sign up now.

Cobb Senior Services Wellness Center, 1150 Powder Springs Street, MariettaClasses will be held from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on three consecutive Wednesdays (must attend all three classes), Feb. 5, 12 and 19.To register, contact Tracy Shehab at [email protected].

St. Ann’s Catholic Church, La Salette Hall, 4905 Roswell Road, MariettaClasses will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on three consecutive Saturdays (must attend all three classes), Feb. 22, 29 and March 7.To register contact Linda Walsh, RN at [email protected] or call 770-552-6400 ext. 6019.

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Cobb public safety step-and-grade plan approved unanimously

Susan Hampton, Cobb public safety advocates
Susan Hampton

Cobb public safety personnel will be receiving a new salary structure that becomes effective in March.

The Cobb Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday night to implement a step-and-grade plan that will provide for incremental pay boosts, based on years of service and other factors.

Details of the plan were revealed last week as a “next step” toward increasing salary and benefits for Cobb public safety workers. Commissioners last year approved a seven-percent raise and a one-time bonus after coming under pressure from public safety personnel and community activists.

“This is a step forward,” South Cobb commissioner Lisa Cupid said before the vote. “It is not a panacea.”

The new plan kicks in March 22, and all qualified personnel in Cobb police, fire and sheriff’s departments will move up a step at that time.

The additional funding will come to $5.7 million for the current fiscal year 2020, which goes through the end of September.

The step-and-grade plan would increase starting pay for entry-level police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters from $41,000 a year to $46,000.

Salaries for the highest police officer and firefighter positions would range from $67,290 to $103,626. For rank-and-file sheriff’s deputies, that top-end range would be $48,435 to $74,590.

Unlike other step-and-grade pay models—including the Cobb County School District—the Cobb public safety raises would not be automatic, and would have to go before commissioners during the annual budget process.

East Cobb commissioner Bob Ott was absent from the meeting.

“We still have work to do, but a lot has been done in the past 11 months,” said Susan Hampton of East Cobb, an advocate with the Cobb County Public Safety Foundation.

She urged commissioners to “never allow public safety to be removed as the No. 1 priority in future budgets.”

But another public safety advocate, Kimberly Peace Hill, was irate, saying “this scale does nothing for retention.”

She told commissioners that “if you’re going to do this, don’t drop the ball. Give them [public safety employees] a commitment.”

Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren, whose department is understaffed, said the step-and-grade plan “is outstanding. It’s long overdue.”

The commissioners’ comments were brief, with East Cobb commissioner JoAnn Birrell pledging that “as long as I’m in this seat, [public safety] will be my No. 1 priority.”

North Cobb commissioner Keli Gambrill voted for the measure, but wondered how the plan will be financed in the long haul since the county brings in $21 million less in property tax revenues ($392 million) than it pays for county employee salaries ($414 million).

She wanted future public safety raises to be tied to additional revenues from the state tag and ad valorem tax, the source of most of the funding for the step-and-grade costs.

“I hope our actions over the last year will show we are moving in the right direction.” Cupid said.

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Revised Cobb public safety step-and-grade would cost $5.7M

Cobb County Chairman Boyce, revised Cobb public safety step and grade

With a new budget season on the horizon, Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce said this week his agenda for 2020 is clear-cut.

He told members of the East Cobb Business Association on Tuesday that his top budget priorities are to keep the current property tax millage rate in place, and continue reducing the amount of money the county borrows from the water fund.

Another major objective he’s bringing up next week is a revised step-and-grade salary proposal for public safety personnel that he said “is a really big deal” for police officers, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, sworn personnel and others.

“There’s nothing else on my plate,” Boyce said during a luncheon at the Olde Towne Athletic Club.

After the Cobb Board of Commissioners approved a one-time bonus, a seven-percent pay raise and an outline for a step-and-grade plan last year, Boyce floated a more detailed proposal last fall that fell flat with some of his colleagues or public safety leaders.

On Tuesday, Boyce will present a revised proposal that would cost an additional $5.7 million annually: $2.1 million for police, $2 million for fire and $1.6 million for the sheriff’s office.

Boyce wants to fast-track this proposal as well, having it take effect for the pay period starting on March 22, if approved.

According to a summary of the proposal included in the commissioners’ meeting agenda, $3.3 million of that new revenue would come from state title and ad valorem tax (TAVT) collections, with $1.1 million coming from the county’s general fund, and another $1.1 million from the fire fund.

The step-and-grade structure is similar to what Cobb County School District employees receive—annual, incremental and automatic raises based on a combination of factors, including years of service, promotions and performance reviews.

Under the revised proposal, the starting salary for an entry-level police officer, sheriff’s deputy or firefighter would jump from around $41,000 a year to $46,000, with the highest salary at that position earning $70,840.

Salaries for the highest police officer and firefighter positions would range from $67,290 to $103,626. For rank-and-file sheriff’s deputies, that top-end range would be $48,435 to $74,590.

The pay raises would be around three percent; under the draft proposal, however, they would not have been automatic and the salary boost would be subject to a performance review.

The revised numbers are slightly higher than what was presented in October. (For the full step-and-grade breakdown chart, click here, and for other proposed public safety salary ranges, click here.

After the ECBA luncheon, Boyce told East Cobb News said he is confident the new formula “is the issue that will restore confidence” to current public safety personnel, and will help with recruiting and retention.

He said that “we’ve engaged the officers,” and that “the key to me is, can we do this without a millage increase?”

For those critical of the draft proposal in October, the revision may pose similar concerns. East Cobb commissioner Bob Ott said then that the plan wouldn’t be step-and-grade if it needed annual budget approval.

Included in the recommendation in Tuesday’s budget item is language that would “authorize the County Manager to proceed working with county staff to develop a policy to review the Step & Grade Plan on an annual basis to determine effectiveness including an annual step as a top priority in future adopted budgets.”

Boyce, a Republican from East Cobb, is seeking re-election in November. His declared opposition includes South Cobb Democratic commissioner Lisa Cupid and East Cobb Republican Larry Savage, who ran for chairman in 2012 and 2016.

Two years ago, Boyce angered fiscal conservatives with a millage rate increase that didn’t address public safety staffing shortages and morale problems over pay and retention.

During last year’s budget deliberations, public safety staffers and advocates, as well as community leaders, implored commissioners to take measures to address what they termed a “crisis.”

One-time bonuses approved in May were promised as a “first step,” and when commissioners approved the fiscal year 2020 budget in July, it included a seven-percent raise for public safety employees.

Tuesday’s commission meeting is at 7 p.m. in the second floor board room of the Cobb government building, 100 Cherokee St., downtown Marietta. You can read through the full agenda by clicking here.

 

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Cobb Census ad casting call slated for Sewell Mill Library

Cobb Census ad casting call

Submitted information and graphic:

The Cobb County Census Committee is searching for volunteer, resident models to feature in upcoming Census 2020 outreach advertisements. Come help us receive an accurate count in the 2020 Census! Casting is open to Cobb County residents of all ages and backgrounds.

The committee will be at Sewell Mill Library and Cultural Center in the Studio Gallery Green Room, 2051 Lower Roswell, Rd., Marietta on Tuesday, Jan. 21 from 5-7 p.m. Stop by and bring the family!

 

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East Cobb Library to hold U.S. Census data presentation

Submitted information:Be Counted in Cobb

Data.census.gov is the U.S. Census Bureau’s new platform for access to data and digital content. Leaders of non-profits, businesses, government, faith communities and educators are invited to the Guide to Census Data for Grant Writers and Community Analysis presentation by Anh “Luke” Nguyen, Data Dissemination Specialist of the Census Bureau, on Tuesday, January 28th at two Cobb County Public Libraries.

The Census Data programs are scheduled for:

  • 10 am at the North Cobb Regional Library, 3535 Old 41 Highway NW, Kennesaw 30144. 770-801-5320
  • 2:30 pm at East Cobb Library, 4880 Lower Roswell Rd., Marietta 30068. 770-509-2730

The January 28th programs are free and open to the public.

Census data impacts funding for education, healthcare, transportation, emergency services and social services. The Census results are used to shape the boundaries for federal, state and local government elected representation. Census data is “big data” for decisions about philanthropy and small business growth.

The U.S. Census Bureau “Shape Your Future. Start here” education and outreach campaign’s goal is for the 2020 Census to count everyone who lives in the U.S. Census Day is April 1. Beginning in mid-March, households can respond online, by phone or by mail. For more information, visit www.census.gov.

 

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Cobb Board of Commissioners recognizes retired Sen. Isakson

Cobb Board of Commissioners recognizes retired Sen. Isakson

On Tuesday the Cobb Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation to retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who stepped down on Dec. 31 due to health reasons.

The East Cobb resident is the only Georgian to serve in both the state house and senate and U.S. house and senate. Isakson also served as chairman of the Georgia Board of Education during a 45-year career in public office.

“It’s been a pleasure representing this county for a long time,” Isakson said upon receiving the proclamation.

“I appreciate all you’ve done for me and all the nice things you’ve said about me.”

Isakson also commended outgoing Cobb County Manager Rob Hosack (at far right in photo), who is retiring in April.

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Cobb precinct changes approved over Democratic objections

Caroline Holko
Caroline Holko

Updating last week’s post about precinct changes in Cobb, including a few in East Cobb: Those measures got final approval on Monday by the Cobb Board of Elections.

But the head of the Cobb County Democratic Committee and a Democratic candidate for a State House seat in East Cobb objected, saying they were made with little time to spare before the March presidential primary and the general primary in May.

They spoke during the public comment portion of the Cobb Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday. The precinct changes will affect 43,000 registered voters in Cobb.

The changes come as Cobb and other counties in Georgia will be installing new voting machines for the 2020 elections, and with turnout expected to be high in a presidential election year.

Cobb voters will go to the polls in the presidential primary March 24, with early voting from March 2-20.

Jackie Bettadapur of East Cobb, the county Democratic chairwoman, said she and the party’s appointed member of the elections board attend those meetings regularly, but “none of us were aware that these changes were planned.”

Making such changes on a “short notice, just under the wire” basis “has the makings of a perfect storm.”

Nine precinct changes were made, as the Cobb elections office is gradually moving away from schools for security reasons. Three of those changes are in East Cobb:

  • The Dickerson precinct will now be at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation (1200 Indian Hills Parkway);
  • The Dodgen precinct will relocate to the Episcopal Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (1795 Johnson Ferry Road);
  • The Marietta 6A precinct at Lockheed Elementary School is moving to the Redeemed Christian Church of God-Heaven’s Gate Church (816 Pickens Industrial Drive).

In addition, the Bells Ferry 3 precinct was divided, with a new Bells Ferry 4 precinct being created. Around 3,500 voters will be voting in the new precinct, located at Shiloh Hills Baptist Church (75 Hawkins Store Road). Bells Ferry 3 voters will remain at Noonday Baptist Church (4120 Canton Road).

“I just think it’s too close to the election,” said Caroline Holko, a Democrat who’s running for the State House District 45 seat in Northeast Cobb, and who ran for Cobb commission District 3 in 2018. “I haven’t seen a real plan to notify voters of the changes and why.”

Janine Eveler, the Cobb elections supervisor, told commissioners that voters whose precinct locations have changed, or who have been moved into new precincts, will get new precinct cards in the mail.

In addition, she said they will get a first-class letter delivered to their home address, and that signs will be posted at old precinct locations.

South Cobb commissioner Lisa Cupid, the only Democrat on the five-member board, voted against all three agenda items to split precincts, saying she wanted to see “some actual data to show that there’s a true problem . . . at this point in time.”

East Cobb commissioner Bob Ott said the board “doesn’t need to get into the minutiae” of elections board business, and Cupid snapped back.

“If it was to be a rubber stamp it wouldn’t come here,” she said. “This is a proper forum to have these discussions.”

With the approved precinct relocations, Eveler said roughly half of the 60 precincts at schools have moved.

She said there won’t be any more precinct changes this year, but that the process will continue in 2021.

Other recent precinct changes and new locations in East Cobb include:

  • Addison 1, Legacy Church (1040 Blackwell Road);
  • Bells Ferry 2, Christ Worship Center (3393 Canton Road);
  • Blackwell 1, Northeast Cobb Community Center (3100 Jaycee Drive);
  • Davis 1, Mountain View UMC (2300 Jamerson Road);
  • Elizabeth 2, Covenant Presbyterian Church (2881 Canton Road);
  • Garrison Mill, Unity North Church (4255 Sandy Plains Road);
  • Hightower 1, Woodstock Church Shallowford (3662 Shallowford Road);
  • Lassiter 1, Pilgrimage Church of Christ (3755 Sandy Plains Road);
  • Mabry 1, Hope Presbyterian Church (4101 Sandy Plains Road);
  • McCleskey 1, Shallowford Free Will Baptist Church (1686 Shallowford Road);
  • Nicholson 1, East Cobb Baptist Church (1940 Shallowford Road);
  • Pope 1, East Cobb Senior Center (3332 Sandy Plains Road);
  • Shallowford Falls 1, Harmony Grove Baptist Church (4207 Shallowford Road);
  • Simpson 1, Mountain View Regional Library (3320 Sandy Plains Road).

For more information, visit the Cobb Elections website.

 

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Ott releases prepared statement announcing retirement

Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott announced Tuesday he would be retiring at the end of the year. Last night, he distributed the text of his prepared statement that he made during the commission business meeting:Bob Ott, East Cobb Restaurant Row

It’s hard to believe this is the 12th year I have had the honor and privilege to serve the people of District Two.  As I reflect on those years during the holidays, I am so thankful for all of the people who help me every day.
 
None of this would be possible without the support of my best friend; my wife Judy. She along with Katie and Chris continue to accept the late nights and weekend phone calls that come with this job.
 
I also need to recognize all the volunteers and appointees who have accepted appointments to the numerous commissions and boards. Without them, Kim and I wouldn’t be able to serve the citizens of District Two.
 
Many of them are now the chairs of their respective groups.  Together, we were able to accomplish so much for our citizens. The challenges started early, and the group showed it was ready and willing to jump right in.
 
In 2009, we had the great flood. Less than nine months after starting as the commissioner, the county experienced what the experts say was a 750-year flood event. Parts of the district were under over 20-feet of water. The Chattahoochee River crested at 29-feet above flood stage. The citizens of the district, especially those along Columns Drive and in Vinings needed help. County staff literally came to their rescue.
 
There couldn’t have been a worse time, as the county was feeling the effect of the Great Recession. Budget numbers went south, the county instituted furloughs, much to my disappointment. To many county employees it was a wake-up call that even Cobb County wasn’t immune to the devastating impact of the recession. But out of all the down times, we got the commissioners to agree to the creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Committee. They were tasked to look at all aspects of the county operations and recommend where things could be done a better way. Thank you to all the members of that committee.
 
Although it took some time for all the proposals to work their way into the system, eventually, the county started to pull out of the recession. Along with the recovery, there was a new SPLOST proposal, that for the first time was not the usual six years of questionable spending. With the help of Commissioner Powell, we cut the SPLOST to a four-year list of projects saving over $200 million.
 
The Braves will begin their fourth season at the new ballpark, soon to be renamed, Truist. As the new season begins, ThyssenKrupp’s new tower is beginning to rise, and the final phase of The Battery is nearing completion.
 
These successes will bring more opportunity to the district. I look forward to what the future will bring to the county and the district.
 
So, today, I am officially announcing that I will not be running for re-election in November and will be retiring from the commission at the end of the year. I want to thank all of the citizens of District Two for allowing me the honor and the  privilege of serving as your commissioner.

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