By conservative estimates, the taxable value of Columbia County property will increase this year by 8 percent. With state funds factored in, operating the county government and school system will cost nearly $200 million in the next fiscal year.
That is a lot of money. What's it being spent on?
For the school system, personnel. In fact, the next school year will represent the largest single-year increase in the system's budget, with most of the $15 million hike going to hire 62 additional teachers and 28 paraprofessionals.
To put that in perspective, just 25 years ago the entire school system's budget was $12 million.
Personnel also raise the cost of county government. The clerk of court's office is adding three people to handle the extra workload because of the labor-intensive switch to a case-assignment system for judges.
The court-mandaged change is a blessing for defendants, victims and witnesses who once were stuck in the antiquated local system. But their burden wasn't entirely relieved - much of it is passed along to taxpayers.
County Commissioner Tom Mercer makes a sharp point when he notes that fully half of the county's expenditures go to operation of courts and public safety - $25 million goes, in essence, to protecting the county.
Details of the various county budgets can be dry, boring stuff - but it impacts every taxpayer, especially when the county is seeking even more money to spend.
Because neither the school system nor the county government are expected to cut tax rates to match the increase in the county's property values, both will soon begin holding "rollback" hearings to explain why. Citizens who want the answers should consider it their civic duty to attend.
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