2009-12-03 / Opinions

Voters did hold politicans accountable


The letter by Mike McCombs published in the previous edition made me wonder if he was advocating a return to the previous county leadership. It is reassuring that voters did hold them accountable for the growth in government and increases in taxes of the previous years. Unfortunately, as Lame Ducks they spent all of the county reserves and left Wade Johnson and the current commissioners to clean up after them.

Faced with an excessive bureaucracy, no reserves, dwindling tax revenues and even a gymnasium with construction deficiencies due to inadequate county construction oversight, Chairman Johnson and our current commissioners started off in an even worse situation than they could have anticipated when they were elected. Despite the unanticipated level of difficulty they faced, they took immediate responsible action to start trimming the excess bureaucracy, make smart decisions about spending and assess the deficiencies in the gymnasium's construction. In fact, this year's county budget is $427,900 less than the previous years and set a fine example of restraint.

In criticizing Chairman Johnson's accomplishments in his first 11 months in office, Mr. McCombs tries to blur the line between the responsibilities of the County Commission, the School Board and the State of Georgia. Certainly, property taxes are confusing since each of the above organizations impacts our property tax bills, and despite a reduction in County spending, the great majority of property tax bills went up this year (mine certainly did!). Here are the factors that are contributing:

.. The County Commission spent $427,900 less on the County Budget.

.. Property Values in general decreased in Lincoln County, as a reflection of the national situation.

.. Chairman Johnson and the Commissioners maintained the county's millage rate unchanged so that property taxes on a smaller total value of properties raised enough money to pay for the smaller county budget.

.. The School Board raised the millage rate to pay expenses, impacted by construction of the new High School / Middle School and the required bond payments (think of this as the mortgage payment for the new school). This caused an increase in property taxes.

.. The State of Georgia, under the impact of reduced tax revenues, discontinued the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant (HTRG). As documented in a communication from the County Commissioner, the Mayor of Lincolnton and the Tax Commissioner, this caused the average tax bill to increase by approximately 200 dollars.

The net effect due to this combination of the County Commission's frugality, the School Board's tax increase and the State's cessation of the HTRG caused our tax bills to go up. It is disingenuous to blame these increases on the county commission.

It should also be noted that the State of Georgia implemented a state-wide freeze on increases in property assessments (unless improvements were made). This effectively trumped any need to do this at the County level.

Mr. McCombs' letter strikes me as a "Ready, Shoot, Aim" approach to our increasing tax bills. I prefer to look at issues from the "Ready, Aim, Shoot" perspective.


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