Sometimes, you need to sacrifice the part to save the whole.
In government, that often means pitting one subgroup of constituents against everyone else, a situation no officeholders want to find themselves in.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners faced that dilemma recently over where to build the proposed new North Hall library. The library, to be built with funds from the special purpose local option sales tax approved a year ago, was tentatively planned to be build on land purchased in Clermont. Instead, commissioners have decided to build it off Nopone Road at a site already set aside for a park and a recreation center.
Building the library at the Nopone Road site will save the county money during its current financial crunch, commissioners say. Like most other governments nationwide, Hall finds itself trying to do more with less. Revenues have dropped as more people have lost jobs and others have cut back on spending, leaving governments challenged to provide a steady level of services with less money coming in.
That also goes for SPLOST money, which like other sales taxes tends to fluctuate with the economy. The less people spend, the lower the sales tax revenues. Until the economy bounces back, that isn't going to change.
Yet the residents of Clermont say they feel betrayed. They believe the library was promised to them and that commissioners broke their word. Though the SPLOST vote didn't specifically say the library would be built in Clermont, the first land purchase of 41 acres in 2007 for $1.1 million was in the area and residents were counting on the library being built there.
No one is sure if Clermont officials were told specifically by someone in Hall government that their site would definitely be used for the library. If so, it didn't happen publicly that we're aware of, though hints in more private conversation could have led to that perception. And certainly no one on the commission would have any cause to "stick it to Clermont" and relocate the library beyond the reasons stated.
Nevertheless, commissioners have come under heavy fire for the decision. Clermont residents have written letters to The Times, attended commission meetings, and even threatened to file a lawsuit against the county. Doing so would be expensive for the city and the county, and it would be a shame if it comes to that.
But short of relocating the library, it's hard to see how Clermontians can be mollified.
We understand how they feel. The town of 500 or so residents was looking forward to a shiny new library to replace the aging facility they now use. They were anxious to have a real library of their own, and not having to drive into Gainesville or farther to get books or study materials. When you get your mind set on something, it's hard to turn loose.
But the four commissioners who voted for the new site (Tom Oliver, Ashley Bell, Bobby Banks and Billy Powell) appear to have acted responsibly for the sake of the whole county, even if it made residents of the one town unhappy. Hall Countians need to know their tax dollars are being stretched as far as possible and that commissioners are looking out for the best interests of all, not just a few.
Commissioners say building the library at the Nopone Road location will save money and serve more people, both worthy goals during a time of budgetary challenges.
This is just one small example of the kind of decisions government leaders at all levels are having to make in the wake of a yearlong economic recession. Spending must be cut and difficult decisions made to keep budgets out of the red. Vital services, such as public safety and emergency services, need to be preserved, meaning some less-crucial agencies must be sacrificed. Jobs must be cut and salaries and expenses reduced.
It's hard, it's unfortunate, it's frustrating, but there is no other way to reconcile the numbers, short of taxing people more who can't afford the additional burden.
The same is true when it comes to prioritizing where money is spent on SPLOST projects. To get the most out of the revenue available, and to make sure as many of the services residents voted for can come to fruition, smart decisions need to be made. If the money isn't there for everything that the county wants, it needs to cut corners where it can to maximize the tax dollars.
Such was the case with the North Hall library. The choice to move it to a different site likely will save money and still provide a new library, park and rec center for county residents at a price that everyone can live with. It's not exactly what anyone wanted, least of all the people of Clermont, but it is the best possible result for the county overall.
Let us now hope that the good residents of Clermont can accept the decision in time and channel their newfound activism into a strong vision for how to better their community in other ways. They can start by sitting down with county leaders to decide how best to use the land purchased by the county. Hall officials should give them a chance to weigh in so they don't feel alienated even further by their county commission.
In fact, when the economy improves and further library expansion becomes an option in the future, Clermont should be high on the list, if not first in line, for such a facility.