Consolidation/incorporation may be the buzzwords, but money is the bottom line. At the heart of the issue is how to pay for the proposed $30 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Let's review some of the events surrounding this proposal, and discuss the bare facts of life in Columbia County.
When this issue first came up this past summer, the Democratic Party of Columbia County sponsored a public forum on consolidation/incorporation. Professor Ralph Walker and former Augusta Mayor Charles Devaney presented an outstanding overview of the subject including the good, the bad and the ugly.
Unlike the Columbia County Commission-sponsored presentations that followed, we had no preconceived notions, biases or vested interest in the presentation.
The county commissioners then sponsored three public forums around the county. Their goal was to explain to the public the mechanics of the proposed change, how it would affect the citizens of Columbia County, and address the citizens' concerns.
It should be noted for the record that the first presentation was held before the Georgia House or Senate was in session. Not one of the members of the legislative delegation attended this or any of the following public meetings. While the citizens turned out on a cold and rainy night, their elected representatives did not.
The future of consolidation is now in the hands of these very same legislators.
The commissioners have presented several scenarios to pay for the CIP. First, franchise fees would pay for the bond without a tax increase. Next, without franchise fees, a tax increase will be needed. Now, the stormwater tax may be repealed if we have franchise fees.
It seems to be a moving target. Let me quote Chairman Ron Cross from The Augusta Chronicle, March 11, 2005: We don't spend enough time planning or projecting the future.
My friends, the answer is long-term planning and impact fees. The failure to enact impact fees by this and past county administrations has put our community in this position.
In fact, the majority of the proposed CIP could be paid for with impact fees. We are currently $30 million behind the growth curve. Some estimate the actual number closer to $100 million!
Growth should pay for growth. That is the only way for Columbia County to have sustainable growth. This community and the developers can coexist and prosper with long-term planning and impact fees.
Let's use the Citizens Impact Fee Committee's examples of Tucson, Ariz., and its surrounding Pima County for our guide for impact fees. That community found itself $1.4 billion behind. Transportation is now planned out to the year 2030, and is being funded with impact fees. The future of Tucson has never been brighter, and the citizens are not being taxed out of their community.
We need to look very far into the future and plan now.
(Scott Nichols, an Evans resident, is chairman of the Columbia County Democratic Party.)
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