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Our Public Rulers: The commissioners who would be kings

    To be clear on the county government’s 10 percent property tax increase  this year, it was taken by the commissioners against strong public sentiment.
    Politicians talk about being public servants, carrying out the will of their constituents. Our whole democracy is based on the idea that the elected are there to represent the public. The public wanted taxes to be held steady or cut; the politicians wanted a tax increase. The truth of what happened is crystal clear - we’ll all pay more.
    Two of the three members of the board of commissioners (chairman Rob Jones and Commissioner Jerry Barnes) plowed ahead with a tax hike to fund increases in employee health insurance plans, increases in employee salaries and improvements to the jail. (The third commissioner on the board, Becky Denney, abstained, citing more tightening that could have been done.)
    These are not the actions of public servants, these are the actions of public rulers – commissioners and other elected officials who would be kings and take what they can in taxes, deaf to the cries from the public. The fact that the county rolled it back from a proposed 14 percent increase to a 10 percent increase at the last moment shows they knew what their constituents wanted but lacked the political fortitude to make cuts.
    Our local politicians always trot out the clichéd claim that they are financial conservatives at some point in their campaigns, but they have all, without exception, misrepresented their true philosophy on spending.
    Did any of the elected leaders in the public hearings voice dissent against the plan for more taxing and more spending? No. The fact is, from the courthouse to the administration building, all our elected leaders either supported the increase or dared not stand against the other officials to oppose it.
    It’ll be interesting to see how many of these incumbents will still claim to be financial conservatives when elections roll around in four years.
    In 2016, they all qualify as tax and spend liberals. Regardless of how they try to spin it,  all had their hands out for more taxes and more spending and by ten percent – no slight increase this year.
    Our rulers make it appear that they had no choice but to go up on taxes as though it was out of their control. Hogwash. Not one person in office detailed any attempts to cut anything. Why would they? They are going to take what they want in the end any way.
    As we have editorialized before in this space, our elected officials are completely out-of-touch with the realities of running a business. In the real world there are things you want, but you do without if you can’t afford them. This simple premise is utterly lost on those in power in Pickens County.
    The county is preparing to spend a possible $270,000 more for the county employee health insurance, which already costs the taxpayers $2.7 million. As one speaker at the public hearing pointed out, the county funds a better plan than most people in the county can afford. Similarly the county budgeted $400,000 more for employee raises. And as we have written before,  the most dedicated wonderful employee in the world doesn’t normally get a raise if his employer doesn’t turn a profit.
    In the real world you stay within your means; in the government world you raise taxes.
    We would further point out to our county officials who claim they have no choice but to up our taxes that the city of Jasper (which admittedly has more commercial base) has figured out ways to go years without any noticeable tax increase. Good job Jasper.
    They raise spending only when they see increases in the tax digest. In other words when there is growth, they grow. When the digest is flat so are the taxes.
    Now that is a model of county government finances we’d support. Taxes go up or down depending on growth in the county, not the whims of three rulers and their elected cronies.

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