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My response to the Gainesville City Council's announcement of a proposed tax increase during this economic crisis can be said in one word: unacceptable.
During this deep recession, when so many businesses have been forced to close and so many people have lost their jobs and homes, our residents deserve tax breaks, not tax increases. Simply put, in today's economic environment, even holding taxes where they are is no longer acceptable. The goal must be to lower taxes while maintaining services.
To their credit, both Gainesville and Hall County governments have been making cuts, including layoffs and furlough days. But this proposed tax increase sends a clear message that the government, which worked fine during the robust economy, cannot operate on the money now being received. As Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said in Monday's Times article, "so many revenues on so many levels continue to decline."
Faced with the reality that tax revenues are not going to improve and probably will worsen, the issue of how to maintain and provide services without raising taxes becomes impossible and more tax increases are inevitable unless action is taken immediately.
So what can be done? Everyone must face the truth that the world has changed, the boom times are over and a "new normal" is here. People and businesses are reinventing the way they operate and government has to do the same. The goal of our Gainesville and Hall County leaders must be to cut taxes while maintaining services and the only way to do this is to downsize our local government.
To accomplish this goal, our leaders, with a new spirit of cooperation, must immediately begin merging as many city and county departments as possible to eliminate all duplicate services. As an example, during a fire do we really care if the fire truck that shows up at our home is a city or county truck? In addition to merging departments, officials should take a hard look at other common-sense ways to save real money, like turning over some programs to nonprofits or contracting our operations to private firms.
Several city and county workers tell me this all makes sense and should have been done a long time ago, but squabbling among local officials has prevented it.
Finally, a task force should be created to investigate a complete consolidation of city and county governments to determine if this would save the most money and could mean lasting change for the better.
The time of "business as usual" is over. The residents of Gainesville and Hall County need to demand our leadership to take immediate action to eliminate duplication and reduce the size of local government, which will result in tax deductions. We need to hold them accountable for doing so. Anything less can be said in one word: unacceptable!