Broken promises hurt our seniors

Steve Brown's picture

It’s time to face the truth. Our local community falls short on caring for our elders.

Some of our senior citizens, widows and those on fixed incomes, are the casualties of local government policies and apathy.

Please, do not get me wrong; there is no constitutional mandate that we provide for senior citizens in need. Rather, our society developed a certain compassion for extending assistance.

It is safe to say some of the desire we historically had for protecting the most vulnerable has eroded.

The Fayette County Board of Education (FCBOE) provides some tax exemptions for senior citizens based upon age and income level. The policy from years past was created for all the right reasons. However, the current FCBOE has greatly disappointed in this area.

We had two exceptionally expensive bond referendums for schools, each with the promise to local seniors that the same exemption for property taxes would apply. Because the referendums are decided by thin margins, it was important to win over the senior citizen segment of the voting population.

Promises flowed from the FCBOE, its surrogate political action committees and the Chamber of Commerce about how the bonds protected senior citizens. Then, in an about face, the FCBOE announced a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum in which a significant portion of the proceeds would be used to pay off the bond debt.

The same low income seniors who were promised no harm from the bonds are now paying the debt service through sales taxes. Call it what it is: the FCBOE lied.

As you have read, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners is insisting on another SPLOST. The commissioners are wasting tens of millions of dollars from the present SPLOST on the West Fayetteville Bypass, a road no one wants or needs. Similarly, the new SPLOST proposal includes even more frivolous requests in the midst of a waning economy.

Not once have I heard the slightest bit of empathy from the commissioners regarding the impact their tax increase stance has on our senior citizens. It’s “spend, baby, spend.”

If Commission Chairman Jack Smith wants to reduce county debts, he should use the ill-appropriated West Fayetteville Bypass funds. After all, the state only allows two purposes for those funds — referendum projects and debt relief — so let’s not waste it on the “Developer FREEway.”

Peachtree City Mayor Harold Logsdon campaigned on tax relief for senior citizens. In 2005, then-candidate Logsdon came before the City Council saying the city was not looking out for seniors on fixed incomes. However, he was reminded that the City Council had proposed and the voters just approved (by a very wide margin) a low income senior homestead exemption which would roll back the rise in property tax based on increased value assessment. Candidate Logsdon declared more had to be done.

In hypocritical fashion, taxes increased annually under Mayor Logsdon and he refused to raise the low income senior homestead exemption in conjunction with those increases.

In addition to the wave of extra taxes, the mayor and council increased the fees seniors have to pay for various services. They even created a mandatory facility fee for seniors using the Gathering Place senior center.

The city was too overzealous on spending and did not budget well, a situation worsening with the economy, but do we have to make up the shortfall on the backs of our low income senior citizens?

Low income seniors were thrust aside again when the mayor and council decided to discontinue the city’s Community Action Day. The annual event used the city as the conduit to join civic groups, churches, scouts and local businesses to aid widows, seniors needing assistance and the disabled.

Community Action Day delivered landscaping improvements, new roofs, appliances, home repairs and the like to seniors who were physically unable to perform the work and could not afford to pay for it. However, these tremendous acts of kindness, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, did not cost the city a single dime, requiring only for the mayor and council to solicit support in the community for the projects.

The mayor and council simply explained they were not willing to invest the time needed to keep the program going. Other things were more important to them.

Numerous seniors have told me they can no longer afford to live in Peachtree City or Fayette County. To me, this situation is heartbreaking, knowing a woman raised a family in our town, eventually losing a husband and there is very little concern from anyone about the fact she has to move.

Morals and principles are not conditional. Making a good campaign stump-speech on caring for our elders does not make you moral or principled. Your actions do, in fact, speak louder than your words.

Politicians so eager to fund pet projects through increased taxation should be required to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are not crushed in the process.

People of the Christian faith will recall the book of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31-46, something to keep in mind when we forget about the least of these.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]

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