While I agree with Barbara Driggers and the others about the effects of consolidation on cable and phone bills (letter, Oct. 2, "County should not 'ruffle feathers' with consolidation"), this is much larger than they seem to realize and the consequences much more dire.
There's a line in the movie Open Range that goes something like, "A bad man will tell you what he's going to do - if you listen...," and I heard Ron Cross loud and clear. In his lengthy dissertation (guest column, Sept. 25), he pointed out the county is limited in raising and using SPLOST funds in both their use and the time they can be collected. He rightly says as a city/county, there would be no limit. Is that what we want? Check your phone or cable bill - under that same principle there is a charge that was levied to pay for the Spanish-American war (1899).
Curiously not mentioned in the article are the powers accruing to the city; in Georgia, they have the duty to provide a menu of services including water, sewer, fire and trash pick-up. They have a monopoly inside the city limits, and the power to enforce them. Don't want to hook up to city water? Too bad. Want to keep your septic tank instead of paying several thousand in connection fees? You can't. Want a choice in garbage pick up? Forget it.
In all of these - and many other matters - the city decides. In a government that is responsive to citizen input, like Grovetown's, these matters are resolved because Mayor Dennis Trudeau and the council run for office not as front men for any special interests, but for the sake of public service. Contrast that with Columbia County where the entire commission nothing more than are well-paid punks (in the original jail term sense) for special interests.
Augusta's present troubles over garbage pick-up is instructive how these things work. In order to get the votes for consolidation to pass, the residents of the old city were promised continuance of trash pick up at a lower rate than the county. Now, Augusta needs money; where are those promises now? ...
What sort of government would we get with the present commission? I've found the best predictor of future behavior is past action. Since the county went Republican two decades ago, what has the commission done to improve the county? Well, they wanted to build a golf course at taxpayer's expense; this ignored the fact that if one were needed, private funds would be pouring in. Their next project was an airport. Let me shoot that one down with two words: Bush Field. Now they're hot for a project even Richmond County saw as a massive taxpayer rip-off - the "Billy Barn," a $100 million-to-build-and-will-never-see-a-profit boondoggle.
And what of their stewardship of the infrastructure they inherited? After several consecutive years of drought, they finally acted - to fine citizens who used too much water. As they were doing this, they were selling millions of gallons a day to Richmond County.
Are my examples too far back? OK, examine their present-day handling of the Doctor's Field; in a gesture of unparalleled corporate good citizenship Doctor's Hospital made a magnanimous deal with the county to transfer that huge piece of multimillion dollar real estate to the county. This was to assure the citizens of Columbia County continued access to that open space for recreation. So what does the commission plan? Using two or three million taxpayer dollars they're going to cut it up, section it off. Why? Presumably, to keep out the hoi polloi and give a New York-style Central Park view to the upscale condos which must inevitably overlook and surround the space....
Cross writes they will use the money for roads and flood control. And why do we need flood control? Is it because builders build wherever they want, including creek beds and lake bottoms? It's no coincidence the first money spent from the called "rain tax" are earmarked for Spring Lakes? If they are so concerned with controlling erosion, why not collect impact fees from the developers? Short answer: Because it would take money from the people they really work for - developers.
In fairness, they say they are looking into it. They're forming a ten-member committee to study fees. ... Wanna bet on the conclusion they reach?
Oddly, their concern with the roads never seems to extend to the messes they create when they repeatedly violate their own rules to put high-density housing in the worst possible places. Why would they do that if they had the county's interests in mind? Answer: They wouldn't, but they don't work for the county - unless you're a developer. Selling consolidation is based on trust. Have the people selling it done the right thing in the past? Do you trust them to do so in the future? These are bad people with bad intentions.
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