Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Cities trying to squeeze county for more money

Through The Citizen editor's courtesy, I have often been permitted to present comments on the local political scene which I hope have been helpful to our county citizens. The occasional feedback I have been getting has been overwhelmingly positive. I might observe that The Citizen did a great job in allowing the candidates in our recent municipal elections to present their views, and I suspect thoughtful citizens were greatly helped in the process. After all, what's the point of voting if you don't know what you're voting for!

When I was a kid, I observed that there were kids who liked to see other people get into fights. They'd even encourage them to get into fights. It was great entertainment for them as spectators, and they weren't the ones to suffer the bruises and eventual punishment.

The thrill of a fight is always more fun if you aren't the one getting hurt and suffering the consequences. The county and the cities are currently engaging in a fight over tax equity where the people getting hurt aren't the politicians but the taxpayers. The taxpayers are financing both the direct costs (lawyers) and the indirect costs of this fight (in government employee time, wasted elected official time and energy, etc.). It's time it comes to an end.

From that standpoint, then, one should welcome the judicial intervention we're going through.

It would be nice if this skirmish would come to an ending that produces fair results. I have explained before (in The Citizen) that there is no such thing as real tax equity in life. One reason the rich pay more is because, as Willie Sutton used to say on why he robbed banks, that's where the money is. You can't micromeasure the value of what you get from the government and compare it with what you pay.

The gist of the problem we are now facing apparently comes from the 1997 Service Delivery Act, which those readers who may want to look it up at the public library will find in sections 36-70-20 to -28 of the Georgia Code. One sentence of that Act seems to be causing all the trouble. This is what it says: When the county and one or more municipalities jointly fund a county-wide service, the county share of such funding shall be borne by the unincorporated residents, individuals, and property owners that receive the service.

This sentence is buried in the middle of text which suggests that if a city provides water and sewer service to its residents, the city residents shouldn't be made to pay county taxes diverted toward providing water and sewer services for residents of the unincorporated part of the county. That sounds fair enough. When provided by the government, these services have traditionally been billed separately, to each taxpayer individually and generally in proportion to his use, and city residents should not have to subsidize residents of unincorporated areas of the county. There is no problem with this in Fayette County.

Seizing upon the sentence I have quoted, the city governments of Peachtree City, Fayetteville and Tyrone have been asserting, among other claims, that the "county share" of expenses for our county courts should be in proportion to population. The county has replied back that a lot of businesses file lawsuits, and bring charges for bad checks, and most of these businesses are located in these cities. The jail might provide another interesting example. Since there is much more criminal activity in the cities than in the county, how do you allocate the cost of building and maintaining the county jail? Who is receiving the service here anyway, the people on the outside or the people on the inside?

I won't bore the readers with the many more examples I could bring up, but the cities have engaged in a huge nitpicking exercise in an effort to squeeze a few more bucks out of the county. The cities' claim is boring everybody to death, and doing what the cities want finds its theological equivalent in the age-old question of how many angels can dance on the point of a pin.

If the cities were really interested in tax equity, we might look at the number of children in our public schools who come from the cities, and compare that with the number who come from the unincorporated part of the county. If the cities are found to have a greater proportion of children in our schools than their proportion of the county population, would they be willing to pay more school tax?

This fight is about ego, and the silliness has gone on long enough. The cities should call off their dogs. Nobody in the county is ripping off the folks who live in the cities. Y'all get a life!

Claude Y. Paquin

Fayette County

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