It is also perfectly under-standable that for about the past four years the commissioners have largely been in a mode of don’t rock the boat … and bail faster. Much of the country, after all, has similarly been acting like a deer frozen in the headlights of an unexpected economic downturn.
Indeed, this entire exercise began with participants saying — “That about sums it up,” according to Commission Chairman Irwin Bagwell — that the session’s emphasis was to assure one and all that the county is safe and prepared. Nobody can disagree but safe from and prepared for what? Invading armies of Yankee or foreign investors bearing manufacturing equipment? Terrorists? More homeless?
Fortunately, matters then took a turn for the somewhat better. Perhaps it was just time for the appearance of such mild suggested “changes” as finally getting around to having business licenses in the unincorporated area or giving overworked public servants a (very small) raise after years of telling them they should just be grateful they weren’t laid off. Maybe it had something to do with the recent infusion of “new blood” on the commission.
OF COURSE, it was also very clear from various commissioner comments and reactions that even baby steps such as those mentioned, much less true strides forward not mentioned, are hardly being received with strong support. Well, not enough of it to assure anything will wind up being adopted.
There’s more to that business license thing than meets the eye and not just for the obvious interesting aspects: Farms are a business, do they need licenses? There are, indeed, many out-of-one’s-home ventures still existing in the unincorporated area — shade-tree mechanics, one-woman beauty shops and such. Not to mention the turf outside the Rome core is home to “the best government is no government” sentiments.
At the same time, commissioners can’t be unaware of state-level musings such as increasing sales-tax collections by turning them over to local governments, expanding levies to “services” and similar. All this requires knowing where to look for tax revenues, which is difficult without a central record of who is doing business.
No added revenue stream should be ignored, even the comparatively small one of business licenses. Anything that just stalls off the inevitable — property-tax millage increases due to a falling value digest and down-to-the-bone budgets already in place — must be considered. Clearly, as ducking a stance on the issue indicates, if the local-option choice available for the coming loss of state energy-tax revenues is not exercised then other dribs and drabs of added income must be pursued by the picking up of loose change currently ignored … like business licenses, alcohol sales potential and similar. And, given how Rome has already blazed that trail, watch out for increases in fees and fines as well.
THE COMMISSIONERS also agree to explore/pursue what is called “zero-based budgeting,” which makes sense in controlling spending/taxes in good times when there is obvious waste but not as much after four years of belt pinching. Currently that approach is sort of like having to justify a police department by starting with the assumption that without them there would be no crime. It’s an old trick to try to sugar-coat the unpleasant by determining that law enforcement is needed more than having a library … so let’s close it 7 days a week instead of the current 2. And if that’s not enough, close the parks and lease their acreage for the grazing rights.
If budgets were to actually be based upon public needs, given what has been occurring in recent years, the outcome is pretty certain: Boy, do we ever need more tax money.
Some sort of medal for courage — or for being a “newbie” — should go to new Commissioner Rhonda Wallace for suggesting county employees get a 1 percent raise in 2013, pointing out there had been zero such adjustments in four years and that those 660 are doing the work once done by 720. Actually, such a raise just to keep them where they were back in 2008 should be 1.81 percent. That’s the inflationary loss in the value of the dollar in those four years.
There was not much of a “Right on!” response to this notion from other commissioners.
Perhaps most disturbing, but easy to miss, was the decision not to have a special election on the question of allowing Sunday alcohol sales in the county — that means the unincorporated area, last bastion of “dry” sentiment as Rome already has tossed out such blue laws, as have most neighbors. According to Commissioner Garry Fricks holding a special election in 2013 would be too costly as only municipal ballots take place then. Err ... isn’t that almost half the county? Or is it that those notorious boozers who live in Rome also live in the county and hence are eligible to vote?
THINK ABOUT this one for a moment: It is too costly in a representative democracy to allow the people to express their opinion and make a decision? That’s supposed to be the cheapest and wisest thing elected representatives can do … ask for the public’s guidance. Besides, it would cost nothing to tack this onto the 2013 vote on a new list of overdue special-purpose, local-options sales-tax (SPLOST) proposals.
Oh ... this must mean there won’t be one of those coming either with the considerable risk that Greater Rome’s steady progress — visible for 25 years and driven by the SPLOST mechanism — will sputter to a halt. It is no secret that Rome’s leaders — and it has long been the city electorate providing most of these efforts with the margin of victory — want such a referendum. However, only the county can put one on the ballot and its reluctance is no secret in inner circles.
This attitude is probably caused by the last two such efforts failing but the commissioners miss the obvious. Those involved not projects so much as lack of trust in government — the state insofar as the transportation proposals, the city/county budget manipulations as regards the one to replace cars/equipment that should have been built into the regular budget and hence was not “special.”
True additions of communitywide benefit, such as the Tennis Center of Georgia and all the new visitors and revenues it would bring, are another matter entirely.
OH WELL, at least they’re talking about something other than signage ordinances.