As the Board of Commissioners prepares to convene Tuesday night, our elected representatives face a stark choice between raising the millage rate or making even more cuts to the budget, which will inevitably affect the hard working employees of Newton County.
The pickle in which we now find ourselves was not inevitable. The board has, for years, bumbled its way through the budget process by ignoring actual spending in several key areas, including E911, impact fees, solid waste, and legal, while failing to review in depth the two “enterprise funds” for solid waste and water. Both the solid waste program and the county’s water resources face seriously costly upgrades now, but there is little or no money left in those funds to cover the cost. Both funds have steady revenue streams. Where did it all go?
In the case of the Solid Waste fund, the commissioners lacked the political will to make the program self-sustaining, because that requires increasing tipping fees and charging for use of the convenience centers. We applaud their decision to do so now, but is it too late? According to our research, Clayton County landfill charges $40 a ton, while Pine Ridge Landfill in Butts County charges $38.75 a ton. Both of those rates are higher than Newton County’s $36 a ton, but lower than the proposed $43 a ton that has been suggested. Is the county overcompensating by pricing itself out of the market? We urge the county to study this issue carefully.
The county’s water fund, at least, is not receiving tax dollar subsidies, but the cost is passed on to ratepayers and customers. $22 million has been spent out of the Water Fund for the proposed Bear Creek reservoir, and the county is nowhere close to obtaining a permit. In one case, $240,000 was wasted on a Master Water Plan that were never completed. These expenditures attracted little attention from the board because they never exceeded the Water Fund’s revenue. Now, the existing infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades, and the board is discussing raising the price of water for wholesale customers. Without a careful audit of that fund, it is impossible to know if such a hike is justifiable.
Finally, to those commissioners who oppose any sort of tax hike, we ask you to put our money where your mouth is and come up with some alternative suggestions for cuts of your own. Rather than simply complaining about the situation you had a hand in creating, find solutions. In other words: lead, follow, or get out of the way.