Columbia County taxpayers got their tax bills in the mail during the past week.
The bills contain good news and bad news, and there might be worse news to come.
The good news is that county officials decided to calculate the bills by counting on money from the state's Homestead Tax Relief Grant. That keeps a small tax cut for every homeowner.
The bad news is that Gov. Sonny Perdue says he plans to withhold funding for the grant because of the state budget squeeze. Nixing the grant would save the state $428 million.
The worse news is that, if Perdue keeps his threat, it will mean a cut of $2.8 million to county schools, $1.45 million to the Columbia County government, $47,000 to the city of Grovetown and $19,000 to Harlem.
As county Tax Commissioner Kay Allen says, "the money has got to come from somewhere."
The governments have already set their budgets, so it's too late to raise taxes to make up for the shortfall. The only way to make up the difference is through cuts in services or by pulling from reserve funds.
Coincidentally, that shouldn't be a problem for the school system - which, it turns out, already has the extra money.
School board members last week discovered that the school system's reserve fund, mandated by the state to be no greater than 15 percent of the annual budget, has swelled nearly $3 million higher than state law allows.
We've been pointing out for years that school officials, who chronically complain about lack of funding, hold onto far more taxpayer dollars than are necessary for operating the system.
The current surplus, after the board scrambled Tuesday to move $2.9 out of reserves and into a different account, stands at about $26 million. That represents money sitting in a government bank account instead of individual taxpayers' pockets.
There is no question governments must keep "rainy day" funds. Perdue's 11th-hour threat is a good example of why. But any money in excess of what is needed to operate the government means citizens are overtaxed - and that's obviously the case when the school system goes so far as to horde more of your money than state law allows.
Under these circumstances, it's hard to criticize Perdue for threatening to withhold money from local governments. After all, the local government already is withholding money from you.
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