To the editor:
The Newton County Board of Commissioners is about to make a blockheaded budget decision. It will take at least three of them to do so, and it appears the votes are there.
The Joint Development Authority of Newton, Walton, Morgan and Jasper counties sold land at Stanton Springs to Facebook. Newton County’s portion of that sale came to $935,000, and Chamber staff presented a celebratory, blown-up check in that amount at the last board meeting.
So what would you, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Taxpayer, do with a windfall of that amount – even proportionally less? You would not likely use it to buy groceries for the next 12 months, would you?
That’s exactly what this board seems prepared to do when they vote on the budget Tuesday night.
So how are they going to “buy groceries” next year when there’s not another sale of land to Facebook? This kind of thinking represents the highest folly and close to a cowardly fear of facing the reality that government and the services it provides aren’t free.
Granted, in some, even most, circles, the whiff of a tax increase brings out fighting instincts. No one likes a tax increase, and heaven help an elected official who votes for one, even if circumstances support or demand one. If at least three members of the board could summon the will to stand up for a budget with slightly more than a .5 mil increase, we could put that $935,000 in the bank, improve our financial standing, save money on bonded indebtedness and be well set to weather another downturn like the disaster that beset us in 2008.
I don’t see why principles that homeowners, taxpayers and regular folks would follow are not enough to convince our board to avoid making such a shortsighted move. It is true, however, that there is an urgency to pass a budget so tax bills can be mailed on time.
The initial budget presented to the board called for a 1 mil increase, but wisely, the board and county manager took a step back and reviewed how proposed salary increases based on a market study were going to be applied. As a result, the initial budget proposal for a 1 mil increase was reduced by about a half a mil, but all funding planned under the 1 mil increase could still be covered.
That funding includes 45 new positions across various departments, but to give credit where credit is due, the board and county manager will wisely hold the allocation for those jobs in a separate contingency fund. Money will not be released until the hires are made, and unused funds will be transferred to the county’s cash reserves and general fund at the end of the fiscal year. This makes enormous good sense.
At the last BOC meeting, the votes appeared to be in place to approve a budget with slightly over a .5 mil increase, until one commissioner dropped, at the very last minute, his proposal to incorporate the $935,000 one-time Facebook funds into the budget. That set the BOC back on its heels, and there was no time remaining for deliberative budget negotiations that should have, by all rights, occurred.
More people than not will say to do anything and everything possible to avoid a tax increase, even a minimal one, but it is nonsensical and bad policy to use a one-time windfall – going on $1 million - to make the budget. I say it is folly and extremely bad policy for the long-term.