When Columbia County officials last year began discussing the idea of incorporation and consolidation of the county's government, one overwhelming argument bogged everything down: We don't want to be like Augusta.
The argument is unfair, and factually nonsensical. The two communities and their governments are structurally different, making the comparison so off-base as to not be in the ballpark. Nonetheless, the perception carries a lot of weight simply because of the negative vibes flowing from our neighbors. They've done an awful job with consolidation, and even if the plan contemplated by Columbia County is totally different, Augusta's experience has soured it for everyone.
But what about ideas flowing the other way? It looks like one of Columbia County's most contentious issues in recent years has now popped up across the county line, and our county's experience may actually make things easier for Augusta.
It's the stormwater utility fee, often derided as the ''rain tax.''
Columbia County implemented a stormwater utility fee in 1999, charging a fee for ''impervious surface'' that supposedly impedes the absorption of water into the soil and thus, theoretically, increases the need for drainage infrastructure to channel it.
Unlike a tax, the fee also is charged to schools, churches and other properties that otherwise are tax-exempt.
No one (except the politicians) particularly liked the fee, but it didn't draw the widespread protest some had expected, largely because the individual amounts per property owner are fairly small - just a few bucks a month tacked on to water bills.
Still, a group of men challenged the fee, eventually fighting it all the way to Georgia's Supreme Court where the justices unanimously upheld Columbia County's law. It was an expensive, drawn-out process, but the suit's outcome put a legal stamp on the law that put to rest any continued complaints about its legality.
So, with all the heavy lifting done, Augusta officials are now talking about likewise implementing a stormwater utility fee. Columbia County's experience will ensure such a fee in Augusta is easier to put in place.
Funny how these things work out. Many Columbia Countians made it clear, with consolidation, that they don't want ''to be like Augusta.'' Augusta residents, now facing a ''rain tax,'' may yet decide they don't want to ''be like Columbia County,'' either.
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