The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

School tax, commission chairmanship, SPLOST raise concerns


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Feb. 07, 2018 - 6:46 PM

There have been several aspects in local government that have compelled me to speak up to voice an opinion as a taxpayer.

My perspective is based on some 50 years of home ownership, paying all the required local taxes, along with a 34-year retirement from state government where I was experienced as a local department head. I also on two occasions headed up two different county departments that gave me a closer inside look at local governmental operations. 

My concerns are as follows:

1. School Board Tax Exemption for Senior Citizens – Mr. Don Smith spoke to the County Commissioners in late 2017 about the need to decrease or eliminate school taxes for seniors. I totally agree with him and applaud his effort in front of the commissioners, but the place to initiate that change is with the school board.

The common misconception is that school taxes are eliminated at age 65 for seniors, but that is not true. I spoke with the school board finance director last year who could not recall when the current exemptions were put in place as that was so far in the past. As the county re-evaluates homeowners’ taxes which seems to always raise the taxable values of the seniors’ homes, the small exemptions which seniors get become less helpful.

Many seniors who live on fixed incomes are being forced to sell and move out of their cherished homes because of rising costs even though their homes are debt-free. Other countries do much better for their seniors, and I believe that our Board of Education has the ability to tighten their budget belts to eliminate or at least increase the seniors’ tax exemptions beginning at age 65.

We never hear that mentioned when the board promotes SPLOST taxes or other budget business. All of us need to contact our Board of Education members to get this matter studied and changed.

2. S.P.L.O.S.T. - This extra penny tax began 1986 where the newspaper reported 65 percent of the voters approved it for the first time. In late 2017, only 10 percent turned out and voted in a $140 million continuation for all sorts of projects that resembled a list that looked like a Santa Claus wish list.

My recall is that this tax originally for designated for essential big ticket projects like jails or courthouses that would be impossible within an annual budget. Now it had evolved to be a permanent tax where nearly every entity get a piece of the pie.

Yes, everybody pays the extra penny, but I can guarantee that if you as a local consumer keeps up with that extra penny paid on both large and small purchases, you pay the most over time. I also have an issue with putting the vote on special election days which is extremely costly to the county and draws the fewest voters.

I have heard the legal justification to space the vote out but I say if that is true, get the law changed to vote for this tax only on general election days. That saves money and gets the question before the most voters at the polls.

A good friend and neighbor of mine was Mr. Dan Jackson of Smokey Road. He served on the Board of Commissioners and often said we need always to know the difference between “a want and a need.” That common sense focus is exactly what the SPLOST needs to be so that the pennies collected go on only essential projects and be collected for the shortest amount of time. I urge you to talk to your local officials about this matter. 

3. County Commission Chairmanship - The county website states that Coweta is the only county in the State that rotates the chairmanship annually. This means that 158 other counties see a better way which I assume most elect the chairman. Think about the fact that mayors, governors and our president all are elected, not rotated among politicians who may not be qualified for the role or desired by their constituents.

We trust day-to-day decisions and operations here to locally appointed bureaucrats who report back to a chairman who can be here today but rotated out tomorrow. Keep in mind some commissioners work full-time jobs and aren’t available to be on the spot when daily important and expensive decisions need to be best made by an elected official.

I strongly believe we will have the best county government when an elected person with a professional business like mindset is voted into the chairmanship role for a term in office through a countywide election. Performance and accountability to every citizen across the county will determine if he or she retains the job. Decisions will not be made just for his or her home district friends and neighbors but rather for the best interest of everyone who lives in Coweta.

The horrible example that sticks in mind is in 2016 when then-Chairman Tim Lassetter who represents Road Districts #2, where I live, supported a huge golden parachute early retirement for a fireman friend. This was reported to cost the County over $1 million dollars. Was that good leadership and stewardship of the tax dollar by the chairman? Again, I urge everybody to contact their commissioner to have elected chairmanship concept fully studied after soliciting input all citizens. 

We often complain about Washington or Atlanta problems that need addressing but in reality corrective actions. Changes are probably harder to obtain the further they are from us. I think we should get the old broom out and clean around our own doorsteps first. Maybe those other places will take note of our efforts to improve government and do likewise. 

Jeff Binion 
Newnan