Let me say this up front: I don't think anyone, especially not a Democrat, has a snowball's chance in you-know-where of beating Charlie Norwood for the 9th District U.S. House seat.
An Evans resident, Norwood has done a great job of serving his constituents and keeping in touch here at home.
The expense of keeping in touch, however, may put Norwood in line for a few complaints.
An organization called votetracker.com recently put together a comparison of all of the members of Congress, ranking them by the percentage of their budgets they used to operate their offices.
Of Georgia's 15-member delegation -- 13 representatives, two senators -- Norwood spent the highest percentage of his allotment: 97.72 percent. That puts him 19th overall in the House, fifth among all Republicans. In total, Norwood spent almost $1.2 million to operate his office last year.
"Frankly, I'm not surprised at Charlie's percentage," says his press spokes-man, Duke Hipp. "Charlie has historically had one of the lowest staff turnover rates on Capitol Hill, and best at constituent service. That's not by accident; it's because he thinks it's better to hire an extra caseworker or two to serve constituents as best as absolutely possible, than try to get a good press hit for office frugality."
Low turnover is a significant factor; the longer you stick around, the more your pay rises from entry level. That means good, experienced people are in place -- but such staff costs more.
Speaking of costs, the last time I poked Norwood, it was for coming to town a couple of months ago to complain about spending in Washington, and then going back to D.C. two days later to vote in approval of the very bill he was criticizing here at home.
One of the things in that big spending bill was $200,000 for the construction of a noise barrier along Interstate 20 near Belair Road to replace trees cut down by the Georgia Department of Transport-ation. The DOT sent out an announcement Thursday that the money is now in hand, so the process to build the barrier can begin soon.
Still, does it strike anyone else as odd that taxpayers would pay to cut down trees, and then pay again to create an artificial wall to replace them? Why the heck didn't we just leave the trees alone to start with?
Ah, your tax dollars at work.
Who'll pay for lawsuit?
Speaking of your tax dollars at work, the county's stormwater utility fee is still being challenged, and last week the case went before the Georgia Supreme Court. A ruling is expected sometime soon. Thus far, the four challengers to Columbia County's fee are on the losing end of the fight; their only win was when federal Judge Dudley Bowen kicked the case back to state court. They've lost consistently since then.
The bad news for taxpayers is that the fight hasn't cost the challengers a dime; their attorney is working on contingency, which means he doesn't get paid unless he wins and gets reimbursed by county taxpayers. Meanwhile, taxpayers are already footing the bill for the county's defense of its ordinance.
Don't get me wrong: It's practically the American way to sue if you don't like the way things are going, so the "rain tax" challengers are well within their rights. And they're fortunate they have an attorney who will wage a David vs. Goliath battle with no promise of a payday.
If these guys win their challenge, they will have proven the righteousness of their cause and deserve to get paid, though they have nobly said from the beginning that they regret, as taxpayers, getting hit with everyone else.
But if they lose, it would certainly be fair for the county to demand those four taxpayers reimburse the rest of the taxpayers for the cost of this ordeal.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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