YeSun Wiltse is not the most physically imposing character, but she says she stands in opposition to the county's Capital Improvement Projects bond referendum and she's putting up some of her own money in hopes that it fails.
The Evans resident and her husband, Michael, are responsible for about 5,000 postcards and 400 yard signs distributed throughout the county imploring voters to reject the county's $43.7 million bond issue. If approved, the bonds would fund a list of waterworks, transportation, public safety and recreation projects.
The effort is costing the Wiltses and the Citizens Against Bond Referendum political committee they formed nearly $700.
Wiltse says that sum is about the same amount the couple would pay in additional property taxes over 12 years if voters approve all four components of the bond. County officials have said taxes will increase by 1 mill, or about $40 per year on a $100,000 home, for 12 years, to pay off the bond if all categories are approved.
The county has produced about 10,000 informational brochures and held three public informational meetings to educate voters about the projects and caution them that the cost to complete these projects could substantially increase if they are put off.
The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce has shown its support for the referendum and is distributing the brochure by mail to its members.
Wiltse's opposition stems from what she calls a lack of accountability by the county government.
"I don't think the county government is very responsible with the taxpayers' money," she said. "Whenever (projects are) funded by the taxpayer, it seems like they have this bottomless pit we throw money into."
Wiltse said better enforcement of existing stormwater runoff regulations could have prevented many of the problems the bond projects aim at correcting. Better management of the fire service consolidation effort last year could have saved the county from the need to purchase new fire engines and build new stations, she said.
She opposes the recreation projects in part because about $4 million of that $9.31 million category will be used to repay county contingency funds for the purchase of Evans Town Center Park, which Wiltse said amounted to paying taxes twice for the property.
County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he is still optimistic all or part of the bond will pass.
"I feel like the county will support it, and if it doesn't pass, it's not a loss for the commission, but for the county," he said. The chairman said he has spoken to Wiltse at two of the informational meetings on the bond in recent weeks and called her efforts part of "the American system" and her right to express opposition.
Wiltse said the county should prioritize its projects and make better use of funds derived from the five-year, 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax to fund projects.
Impact fees could be levied to help fund new infrastructure, though she said that she is not convinced it is the sole solution.
"Growth is supposed to pay for itself, and obviously that is not happening," she said.
Should the bond fail, Cross said, the county would look at the next local option slaes tax to fund the infrastructure improvements. That sales tax would not go into effect until 2011, which could cause the county commission to raise property taxes in order to repay a possible revenue bond issuance to obtain the capital.
Cross said he is opposed to tax increases not approved directly by the voters.
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