Dare we say it? We told you so.
In the past several years, Columbia County officials have readily granted requests from apartment developers to sign off on applications for federal loan programs. The developer gets cheap money, and the county's Development Authority gets a sweet fee just for stamping its name on the application.
The county then gets big boxes full of renters, all of whom must have family incomes below a level dictated by the feds. The schools get hit with concentrations of new students popping up in one zone.
And the Columbia County Sheriff's Office gets more work to do.
"When we have government-funded rent, we are inviting the wrong clientele to our county," Sheriff Clay Whittle complained to county commissioners recently, pointing out that his deputies are spending a disproportionate amount of their time policing two such apartment complexes. "It's tying up a lot of revenue," Whittle adds.
Whittle's comments came during a quarterly session in which elected officials get together with county commissioners. Perhaps before the next meeting, Whittle should have his staff add up all the extra cost for policing those trouble spots.
Then he could present the bill to the county, which in turn could subtract that amount from next year's funding for the Development Authority.
Sound harsh? Unfair? Maybe. But think about it: Authority members barely bat an eye when one of these rent-subsidy groups comes calling. With zero heavy lifting -- heck, with no lifting at all -- the authority routinely signs off on "inducement" of these federal programs. They get a small but respectable cut of the action, and everyone walks away happy.
Unfortunately, the authority isn't around to pick up after the party; that's the job of Whittle's deputies. The rest of the county's taxpayers, most of whom are law-abiding homeowners, are less safe and have less money as a result.
We've pointed out in the past the hidden cost of these programs, particularly in terms of school overcrowding, with children coming from parents who don't directly invest in the school system through property taxes. But Whittle's cautionary tale points out the cost can be much higher.
Thankfully, his deputies are more than capable of keeping our community safe. But before county officials and the unelected Development Authority consider any other such loan program in the future, they should remember Whittle's words and just say no.
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