Times has Creative Control?

Do you even read your own paper?

I got a kick out of the editorial that was run in Sunday’s  Times.  Since the editorial board forgot to edit, I thought that I would help.  Below is the editorial and my comments to try and enlighten the editorial board:

Here’s the question for the gang of three that is in control of the Hall County Board of Commissioners: What’s the plan for adopting a budget that makes sense for the county before Thursday’s deadline?  Well, it looks like you should know.  “At least three other commissioners say they are working on a new proposal, but that it won’t be ready until at least early next week.  Commissioners Ashley Bell and Scott Gibbs worked Friday with Johnsa. Commissioner Billy Powell is expected to meet with her Tuesday.” The answer is everyone but the chairman is working on the budget and their plan is to have it ready early this week.

Whether you like it or not, Chairman Tom Oliver has put forth one. It calls for a slight tax increase to avoid draconian reductions in county services. Other members of the board don’t like that plan.  Slight tax increase?!?!  Is 20% slight?  Four members (the majority) don’t like the plan.

Fine. So what’s theirs? Well, you asked.  In the article each member said that they had ideas that they were working through the other members..

Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Some commissioners have made it clear what they are against. It remains to be seen what they are for. They all agree that they don’t want a tax increase.  That means that they all agree that they need to cut.  They also said, “Though they don’t want to raise taxes, the four have said they do want to preserve certain budget items like two ambulances and employees’ holiday pay. Both were on the chopping block in an original proposal released June 2.”

To date, efforts toward balancing a budget for next year have been piecemeal and willy-nilly, as evidenced by last week’s decision to move forward with the elimination of 32 county employees, even before a final decision has yet to be made on next year’s budget.  Ahh, the people that were let go early.  The people let go were people that did not make any budget.   The only thing piecemeal about this is the fact that they have to wait around because two suckers went with the chairman on advertising the tax increase.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs said the layoffs were inevitable, and the county saved $24,000 by not waiting. But how do you know layoffs are inevitable if you don’t yet have a budget? And how do you know you didn’t need to lay off 50 rather than 32?  What is final is the fact that the county can’t raise taxes more than the advertised amount.  So if they can’t go any higher, these jobs were going to have to be cut.

Thursday, commissioners are holding two public hearings for input. Holding public input sessions on the same day the budget has to be approved means they aren’t going to pay much attention to anything said. They can’t; they won’t have time.  The only reason they are having these hearings is because they are entertaining the chairman who admits that he doesn’t have the votes.  If he would have not insisted on the hearings, they would have had a budget last week!

With only days before a final vote, there’s still no consensus as to where spending for the county government is headed. Massive cuts in parks have been proposed, but some commissioners are opposed. Closing libraries is an option, but some commissioners want certain libraries to stay open. And so it goes, line by line through the process. I’ve got money on the fact that they will be out of there by 9pm on Thursday.

No matter what happens, more reductions in county jobs are likely, but which jobs in which departments are in danger is still up for debate. And the deadline clock is ticking down. Like I said, it would have been decided last week if the chairman didn’t have this parade going on.

While a few commissioners are feverishly working on their own separate budget plans to unveil next week in hopes of finding common ground, it’s way late in the game for such a major undertaking. With so little time left, there is no chance the budget that passes will receive the careful consideration needed to do the job right. There are only a few commissioners to work on it since the Chairman keeps his head in the sand.

A protracted, line-item vote on the budget seems a distinct, and dangerous, possibility, with commissioners adding and subtracting as they go in an attempt to reach a magic number.  What do you want to put on this that they have a budget by 9?

Despite sometimes dire financial straits, many people have stepped forward in recent weeks to say they think the investment of a slight tax increase is worth the additional cost. They have said that if an extra $100 a year means most parks and libraries can stay open, and other government services can continue at the level necessary to make the county a good place to live, then it’s money well spent. More people don’t want the tax increase.  Had the Times taken the position that they are for the increase?

Others are adamantly against a tax increase for any reason, no matter what the impact is on quality of life. Theirs obviously is the more politically popular position – no elected official wants to be remembered for raising taxes – and it has become the rallying cry for the Gang of Three. Quality of life…. Why not say it is for the kids…. Like Cool Springs.

We are left, then, awaiting a spending plan from Commissioners Gibbs and Craig Lutz, both of whom have had to deal with bankruptcies of their own in recent months, and Commissioner Ashley Bell, who has failed to show the same financial acumen for the county budget that he has displayed in campaign fundraisers for himself from Atlanta to Savannah. Apparently it’s easier to figure out how to take money from strangers for future political campaigns than it is to balance the county budget. I’m not sure what you are trying to say.  Are you saying that Lutz and Gibbs have firsthand experience with the recession and that is why they have known that the county has been over spending?  Are you saying that Bell’s experience raising money hurts when the county needs revenue.

For some, the solution to the county’s woes is simply to cut spending, jobs, programs and services. Just cut. And yet the county has cut. In 2009, Hall’s general fund budget was $97.9 million, which had been cut to $90.5 million for the 2011 budget. The general fund was inflated due to construction and capital spending.  Maybe that’s the problem, they spent too much in 2009.

The initial proposed budget for 2012 drops that total to $85.9 million. But to reach that figure, the county will have to decrease services in public works and road maintenance; close parks and libraries; eliminate ambulances and the personnel needed to staff them; dramatically cut support of human service agencies; and eliminate positions in law enforcement and the courts. That proposal has been discussed at length for weeks, and we still don’t know where a majority of the commission stands.  I am almost getting tired of telling you to read your own paper.

So how much cutting is enough? I would say that you can never cut enough, but that’s just me.

According to one ranking service, Hall County was the 38th best place in the nation for new businesses to locate in 2011. New businesses mean economic growth and jobs, but they aren’t going to come here if basic government services and programs aren’t available. This has to be the most moronic statement ever made.  My company is not going to move to Hall County because the taxes are too low and they don’t have enough libraries.

The county has gone to great lengths to balance expenditures on the backs of its employees by eliminating jobs, cutting pay with mandated furloughs, withholding payments to retirement funds and forgoing pay increases. Since October 2008, county offices have been closed one day per month as a savings measure. Maybe the county has been too big.  If they actually had the balls to let some people go, the remaining employees wouldn’t have had to make these sacrifices.

Among other compensation cuts, the proposal for the 2012 budget would eliminate nine paid holidays for employees, in addition to the 12 furlough days. That means an entire work-month of hours eliminated from employees’ pay. Beyond the impact on employees, how much will those changes inconvenience local residents in their efforts to do business with the county?  So, on holidays, the residents will be “inconvenienced” because the employees are not paid.  At this point I have to think that the editorial board is smoking something.

So what’s the plan? Sadly, we still don’t know. The three commissioners in the driver’s seat for the budgeting process have made it clear what they oppose, but it’s anyone’s guess what they favor. Remember, this is the same trio that wasted hundreds of thousands of county dollars earlier this year by bringing in an Atlanta law firm to serve on an interim basis until a new county attorney could be hired. Then they rehired the same attorney we had before.  “The three commissioners”… you need three to pass the budget.  I agree with you that they should have never rehired the attorney.  You never hire back someone after they have been canned.

That’s their idea of efficient expenditures of money. That’s their idea of financial stewardship. That’s their idea of a plan. What’s yours, a tax increase?  No thanks!

Hugh Hall County Akston


  4 comments for “Times has Creative Control?

  1. Slipknot
    June 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I think if you look at the proposed increase, it’s not 20%. That would equate to about $300+ per year on my $140k house. As I recall they said a home valued at $180K would pay about $100/yr. more. My numbers could be a little off, but they’re still wayyyy short of a 20% increase.

    • Hugh Akston
      July 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      I got the 20% by taking the 1.41 (general fund and roll up) and divided it by 6.25 (current rate) and it comes out to .2256 or 23%. You could argue to do it correctly, you should add 1.41 to 6.25 and divide it into 6.25 (the average on a curve). 1-(6.25/(1.41+6.25)= .184 or 18%.

      Either way, ~20% if you figure the difference between the two methods 🙂

  2. Hugh Akston
    July 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I am sad to report that no one took me up on the bet that the budget would be set by 9pm. The Times had the article posted by 8:26pm. I guess I will have to go back to playing the lottery.

  3. Dagny
    July 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    keep in mind your $140k home is taxed at 40%, not the full assessment.

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