As revealed in budget discussions, the county alone is now behind by roughly $11.2 million in repairing and replacing fundamental stuff like police cars and computers needed to provide services. That is also increasing by about $1.2 million a year as the county continues to balance its operations budget, even after all those staffing reductions, on the back of not replacing worn-out things or even spending the $600,000 necessary to replace the faulty cell-locking mechanisms at the jail that are considered a major security and fire hazard.
Whether there’s no operating backhoe to get to the broken water main or similar, that is unacceptable. As far as a failure in cell doors, that is scary. Remember the mock disaster drill at the jail a few months back? Some 15 guards and prisoners “died.”
Should such occur, the voters of the unincorporated area in particular would have much to try to forget. Or, as the Floyd County Grand Jury said earlier this year in the wake of the March defeat of a $34 million special-purpose, local-option sales tax (SPLOST) referendum: “We feel it is very important in the future to better educate the community on what a SPLOST tax does and how it works. … In the very near future we are going to find ourselves severely behind other counties in the state who have updated services, better paved roads, and the latest technology to offer existing and prospective businesses and homeowners.”
The very near future now appears to have arrived.
IN RESPONSE at the time, the County Commission chairman shrugged his shoulders, said the government couldn’t spend money promoting a tax (true) and that the voters just didn’t like paying anything more (actually, it would have just been the same as they are currently paying). Showing more leadership and sounding the alarm about what even at the time was known to happen next if the SPLOST did not pass is not against the law.
That March referendum failed by a vote of 6,725 to 5,996 or 53 to 47 percent. Yet every precinct in the City of Rome (plus Alto Park) voted in favor with all the opposition coming from the remaining unincorporated area precincts (plus Cave Spring). For those who need reminding, there is roughly a 40 (Rome) to 60 (all the rest) population division in Floyd County and it is pretty much always the city voters who carry the day for anything vaguely involving progress and/or taxes for self-improvement and community investment.
Indeed, even now as the County Commission continues to play ostrich and pretend it is meeting its obligations by steadily sucking on its rainy-day reserves (which ultimately threaten the community’s credit rating) and “doing without” some of the bare necessities, the contrast to the city government’s approach to the same problems has become striking. Rome’s got every bit of same worries, though it may have reacted and adjusted faster than the county did.
Both are in discussions to set the next fiscal year budget. The county is talking of chop, chop, chopping yet more. The city is planning to give its workers merit raises after several years of their doing without anything and adding a new clinic to handle their sniffles, mandated drug tests and so forth to save on health costs. Rome, like the county, is self-insured yet the county said it wasn’t going to participate.
IT’S REALLY difficult to understand why this city/county divide continues to slow down the progress of all Greater Rome. Sure, there are historic roots but very few remember when the evil city folks charged bridge tolls to county farmers wanting to bring their cotton to market or when Rome’s wickedness tempted the pure teetotalers of the rural regions into sinful behavior.
Even the federal government has decreed (Metropolitan Statistical Area) that city folks and county folks are all the same in these parts and of one place.
Perhaps it is a matter of trying to maintain an illusion of separation even though probably two-thirds of the adults in the “county” are in the “city” daily for work, shopping, services, entertainment or something and close to 100 percent of them in any given week.
Don’t get us wrong … the rural areas are lovely too with charms and enticements of their own and “city” dwellers are often found there. Yet one of the strongest arguments in favor of consolidation — particularly if strong enough of mind to ignore some of the racial bugaboos that have lived on far longer than they should — is that it would make it clearer to all, city and county and Cave Spring, that all of us sail in the same boat. If the bow springs a leak and goes under the stern is sure to follow.
And that is now threatening to become the case. There’s entirely too much unfinished business in Greater Rome — heck, some of it hasn’t even been started yet, like figuring out how to afford improving and expanding our own internal roadway network.
That’s another big, expensive deal that must be handled in the wake of this region having voted down the regional extra penny sales tax for transportation projects. Some major intersection improvements (like around Model High) went down with the March SPLOST defeat and even more will be made more difficult in the future as the “local share” to get state money will now go to 30 percent from 10 percent for those showing hostility to the governor/legislature’s wonderful ideas.
By the way, the three regions that did pass the added penny — basically a swath across the middle of Georgia from Augusta to Columbus — start collecting that penny on Jan. 1 for 10 years, will have an extra $1.3 billion to spend plus get to retain the 10 percent share. That’s even as Greater Rome doesn’t know where its next road grader for local work is coming from.
There is a solution to all this — well, at least a partial one but it does assure all of Greater Rome will remain a “player” in progress and growth. However, it depends on the same sit-on-your-hands bunch whose majority thinking largely got us to this point and a change of mind and heart by some of the traditional naysayers at the polls.
This is the second in a three-part editorial series. Up next: Time for a rescue by SPLOST — a big, big one.