Absentee voting began in Columbia County on Sept. 25. Early voting starts Monday. The General Election is Nov. 7.
Perhaps a more important date for Columbia County's future, however, is Oct. 26. At 6 p.m. on Thursday at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, residents will have their final opportunity to participate in a public presentation of the county's proposed $43 million bond referendum before casting their ballots to decide the bond's fate.
Whether you love the county's Capital Improvements Plan or hate it, there's no denying the county has come close to committing overkill in making the proposal available for public review. A long series of meetings this summer finalized the list, and Thursday's meeting is the third information session to help voters get any answers they need. Additionally, printed copies of the entire plan are available on request from the county, and on the county's Web site, www.columbiacountyga.gov.
Why are all these details important? It's easy to say simply that voters should make informed decisions. But in an era in which there seems to be a prevailing atmosphere of distrust of anything proposed by politicians, voters do themselves no favors by reflexively lashing out against proposals just to be contrary.
Taken as a whole, the county's bond proposal is solid. It asks voters to raise their own property taxes by about $40 per year on a $100,000 home, with the money earmarked for specific infrastructure uses around the county.
The proposal also suffers, however, from some high-profile ugly spots. While those projects make up only a small fraction of the overall bond, the items provide ample ammunition for those looking for a reason to vote "no." The cleanup of Bowen Pond is one such unpalatable item; the seemingly redundant purchase of Doctors Hospital field is another.
To make a responsible decision, however, voters must study the proposal to see if rejecting the entire referendum to get rid of those projects is worth it, since rejection also means denying funding for such badly needed projects as stream bank stabilization, dirt-road paving and rural water line extensions.
Viewed from a less-charitable angle, the majority of easily defended projects are held hostage by a minority of stinkers on the list. But the art of compromise is such that not everyone will agree on the worthiness of every project. That's why the four parts of the bond proposal must be evaluated as a whole, and not just by one or two items in them.
Besides: Rejecting the bond doesn't mean these projects won't get done; it would just mean a setback to their timeliness that would eventually make the projects more expensive. And while the concept is unpopular, commissioners still are empowered to raise the taxes themselves - though obviously they would prefer voters make that choice.
Ultimately, no one should cast a ballot on this issue based on anything other that good, solid information. Thursday's meeting is the perfect place to get it.
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