Columbia County commissioners on Thursday began seeking citizen feedback on a proposal to raise property taxes to pay for $40 million in new projects.
As noted at that session and in the letter today by Angela Mathews (below), conspicuously lacking in the county's proposal is a plan to let growth pay for itself.
Specifically, there is no provision to levy impact fees on new construction. Until there is, it will be a hard sell to ask existing, and especially long-time, homeowners to raise their own taxes to pay for infrastructure needs created largely by newcomers.
There's little argument that the needs are real. How to pay for them is the question.
The list, which the county began to compile as part of its sales pitch for the now-stalled consolidation proposal, includes such worthy projects as the widening of the Industrial Park Drive bottleneck at Washington Road, installing badly needed sidewalks near Evans Elementary and High schools, and paving more dirt roads.
Add a handful of other transportation and stormwater projects, and the total wish list tops out at $40 million.
That $40 million would come from a bond that would take 12 years to repay with a 1-mill tax increase on property owners. In contrast, by some estimates an impact fee could generate nearly $5 million per year - yielding perhaps as much as $60 million over the same 12 years.
Sounds a lot better, doesn't it? Well, other than the source of the money, here's a key distinction between the two:
• County officials are putting in the time and effort to set up the list of projects, present them in a series of meetings and set up a tax-funded bond issue, all in preparation for a November referendum;
• A citizen committee will soon present its report on impact fees, mostly describing them as too complicated.
Put simply, one plan is getting all the attention. The other is all but ignored.
Commissioners are perhaps attracted to the bond-referendum route, seeing it as taking the easy way out. After all, it's the way they've always done business: put together a shopping list and ask taxpayers to come up with the money. Again.
But like an overgrown teenager who's mooched off mom and dad for too long, commissioners might find that pocketbook zipped up - and taxpayers demanding that the officials get a job finding a way for growth to pay for itself.
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