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County should cut to the bone before raising taxes

POSTED: May 30, 2011 9:29 a.m.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners is currently debating raising the millage rate by 1.4 mills. Essential services to run the civilization we call home are important, but this is a time for bold leadership, fiscal conservatism and thoughtful stewardship of the people's money (it's ours, not the county's). It's time to demonstrate restrained government spending before you tax us again.

Our county — and most cities, for that matter — continue to live off the boom time, which is now bust. While businesses have taken draconian 20 to 30 percent cuts, government continues to live large. A 5 percent here and there reduction is appreciated but it's time, like the rest of Hall County, to cut into the bone and show us the beef.

Consolidate departments, cut back hours, reduce personnel, defer maintenance, postpone public works, shut down offices, eliminate double-dip employment retirement policies, scale back pension 401(k) plans and adjust employee health care co-pays. Private industry did that and more three years ago. Squeeze a dime out of our tax nickel.

All government departments must be part of the solution. For example, excesses in the sheriff's kingdom are legendary. It's time to run the jail like a business, not a Ritz Carlton for out-of-town incarcerated guests (rent a prisoner). Mothball the portions of the jail that don't house Hall County offenders. The concept that "we" make money off of "them" is a bunch of hocus pocus.

Gainesville's magnanimous statement "We don't plan to consolidate" is also a cry in the wind. All cities are broke without the burden of sales tax dollars, ever-increasing property taxes and excessive fee revenue. It was previously announced that Gainesville's $6 million budget "surplus" is being spent on other excesses rather than returning it to the people. If it's really there, roll it back and give it back.

A declining tax base, minuscule SPLOST tax revenues, the stagnant growth industry and financial institution meltdown will be with us for at least three years forward. A tax increase this year? A tax increase next? A tax increases the next? That just puts lipstick on the pig.

It's time to address the issue head on, have strong meaningful reorganization and get Hall County's house in order. Then, and only then, raise taxes.

The businesses and citizens have done their part; now it's your turn. We're watching.

Frank Norton Jr.
Gainesville



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