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Officials should focus on inefficiency

Charles Westbrook

Charles Westbrook

Recently, both the city of Albany and Dougherty County commissioners have stated the possibilities of raising property taxes to meet their proposed budgets. Raising taxes seems to be their comfort zone, but it is not the appropriate thought process for the taxpaying citizens. Rather than spending the time to evaluate the issues causing the budget balancing problems, it seems there is a mind-set of continuing to do what has always been done. Furlough days, unpaid holidays, and frozen salaries should only be used as short-term budget fixes, and should never be used for balancing budgets for multiple years in row.

What the citizens of this city and county need are leaders willing to step outside of their comfort zone and make some tough decisions to improve the inefficiencies within our local government. Before any new tax increases are proposed, it should be a "requirement to conduct a budget comparative analysis," by department, with other similar sized cities/counties. This would allow the expense ratios to be presented to the commissioners for consideration prior to making any tax increase proposals.

The city manager stated the possibility of consolidating some of the duplicated services between the City and Water, Gas and Light. He indicated this was a "blinding flash of the obvious." Well, for some, this may be the case, but for others, it takes a while for them to see the light. Back in March, I had resurfaced the possibility of combining some of the remaining duplicated services between the city and county, and asked for prompt action to be taken. This is a concept that would solve many of the budgeting issues we are currently experiencing. However, there has still been no action taken to talk about this government expense reduction alternative. There has been no response from the mayor to indicate when, or if, there would be any action taken on this already-approved initiative by the city commissioners. This only raises the question of whether we have the strong leadership capabilities in our government to make the appropriate decisions to make this happen.

The Dougherty County administrator has now proposed a two mill increase in the already high property taxes in the unincorporated area of Dougherty County (DoCo). So I have conducted some research and found that the property taxes in the unincorporated area of Dougherty County are 25 percent higher than if the same property were located in Lee County. I have asked the county commissioners to request a comparative analysis to see why there is such a variance. I have also compared some of the budgeted expense line items between Dougherty County and another similar sized county (Valdosta/Lowndes County). To name a few, there seems to be significant differences in the Dougherty County and Lowndes County ratios for the 2012 budgeted expense per person in the following areas: DoCo District Attorney expenses are 70 percent higher; DoCo Library expenses are 60 percent higher. A question has also been raised as to why the citizens of Dougherty County should bear the burden of paying over $1.5 million for the health care expenses of criminals kept in our jail. These are just a few of the areas needing further evaluation.

These are clear indications there is more that needs to be considered for reducing expenses rather than raising our already high property taxes. We need our leaders to focus on the causes of these high taxes, and take action to make the tough decisions required to improve this area's government infrastructure. Some of the budgeted expenses are for non-critical services. They are nice to have during times of economic prosperity, but when we are in a recession, these "nice to haves" need to be cut.

There will be a DoCo Commission Public Hearing at 10 a.m. on Monday at 222 Pine Ave. for the citizens to express their views on this year's budget requests. Please make plans to attend this meeting to let the commissioners know how you feel about raising your taxes, again. If you are unable to attend this meeting, please contact your county commissioner to express your thoughts and concerns. Your commissioner contact information can be found on the Internet under Dougherty County government.

Charles Westbrook has been a resident of Albany for the past 10 years and has 25 years of experience in bank operations management. He is a past vice president and president of the River Pointe Neighborhood Association.

Comments

tocar 2 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Westbrook, thank you for this article and the information you provided the readers. I agree with you about the budgeted expenses for non-critical areas. These need to be written out of the budget now as we are living in hard times. Maybe one day these expenses can once again be considered. We agree that what the citizens of this city and county need are leaders willing to step outside of their comfort zone and make some tough decisions to improve the inefficiencies within our local government. These are clear indications there is more that needs to be considered for reducing expenses rather than raising our already high property taxes. Our commissioners are not looking at all areas. It is much easier to say just raise the taxes. We have had enough. Times are hard for everyone and our commissioners are not helping. They are not looking at reducing already duplicated jobs. We do not need duplicated services just as we do not need all of the mega-buck assistants.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

Lee County voters made a very good decision a few years back. Bill Williams, a CPA who makes a number of audits on smaller cities and other counties in the area, ran for Commissioner and he was elected. His experience and expertise have proven invaluable to Lee County and it has avoided a tax increase despite being a growing county.

What Dougherty needs is to cultivate and elect just one Commissioner who understands government and its budget preparation and execution processes. If none will run for the position, I suggest taxpayers would be wise to hire someone with qualifications to analyze the budgets. A department head in another county once told me that he and others pad the budgets each year so the Commissioners will have something to cut during the review process. Although a somewhat extreme example, over budgeting is quite common in government and when each year's budget becomes a mere extension of the prior year's budget, the effect is obvious. And when money is in the budget, every effort is made to spend it..

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randy 2 years, 5 months ago

If we were to go back over the yrs and total up the tax monies spent on failed projects and pie in the sky (McGregor) we would probably have 100 million dollars in reserve. We must have leadership that cares about every tax dollar spent. To hand thousands of dollars to any group just because what they propose sounds good will always come back to bite you. We need representatives with business back grounds to handle the many millions of dollars and the decisions as to where it should be best spent.It is past time for a house cleaning we need new leadership and a clean slate. We can not continue to do the same thing hopeing for a different result.If we have unqualified leadership these are the same people who we are intrusting to hire others for leadership so what do we end up with? you got it more of the same.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

What I have found out is that the County actually has public hearings and a Finance Committee but the City does NOT. There is the problem right there as far as the city is concerned. We NEED a fair process and to let the citizens of the City have a voice in the budget. It's OUR money so let us have a say so and make the process fair to the citizens of Albany. We have been blocked from this process for quite sometime now. This is NOT the way you run a transparent government. Bring back the Citizen's Finance Committee to the City and hold public hearings so that the community can have a say in the budget. It is only fair.

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TrixibelleBento 2 years, 5 months ago

There are City public hearings regarding the budget, Kaos. William Wright usually signs up to speak at each one. Each department presents their budget to the City Commisison, which are all public meetings. Sign up to speak at the meetings or bring the Citizen's Finance Committee idea up to them.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for your info and suggestion. That is perhaps a step in the right direction.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years, 5 months ago

Trixi - After much thought. I do like your suggestion but I think you are mistaken about one part of your post. The public hearings that you speak of is actually commission work sessions. Public hearings work a little differently than work sessions. Yes, work sessions you do have to sign up for but public hearings everyone is invited and you shouldn't be asked to sign up to attend or speak.

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TrixibelleBento 2 years, 5 months ago

The public hearings I spoke of in my first sentence are the night meetings on the fourth Tuesday. The city is required to have a public hearing on the proposed budget. True, work sessions are different, but it's still a good place to bring up the idea for consideration.

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randy 2 years, 5 months ago

I have worked and paid taxes in this area for 15 yrs. I have read every artical on just what we need to do to turn things around in doco. Well here we are and we are still talking about it. Same story different face.The only way that we turn things around is a complete house cleaning and that can only happen with voters. As long as we have this huge divide we will continue to see incompetence voted into office.We never end up with the cream of the crop(Murfree) just pay backs and wantabees. Our system needs to be purged top to bottom. I would be willing to bet that if the financial responsibilitys were taken from the hands of the commissioners and there only job was to be Ambassadors in the community it would become a ghost town at city hall. We need people doing things for the right reason and so far we never had that.

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FryarTuk 2 years, 5 months ago

The theses of Westbrook's commentary are incontrovertible. His details obviously require further analysis. Example are the reactionary remark about medical service to jail inmates and comparison with Lee and Dougherty Counties. Keep in mind Lee County has little fire and ems protection of its own.

In general the road map for Dougherty County and Albany is clear. Consolidation of the city-county is an absolute necessity. The evidence is there with the successful functioning of composite agencies of fire-ems, tax collection, zoning, recreation and animal control. The county could start with integrating the functions of the Sherif and police departments to help save money and throw support to consolidation.

The central element of leadership and civic vision is lacking. That is why so much of the community property has been taken over by non-taxable entities. There is a void in the civic wisdom department. We seem to be plagued by an awful lot of self-serving folks.

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whattheheck 2 years, 5 months ago

Tax exempt property is $700,000,000. Bear in mind this is more than hospital, churches, public housing etc. It also includes manufacturers who happen to be located in the unincorporated area, the Marine Base and such. Some make payments in lieu of taxes but I have never seen an accounting for the amounts and how they are accounted for--eg, back to the unincorporated pot? And the total tax exempt property value is actually understated because all values have never been input to the system.

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Cartman 2 years, 5 months ago

I agree Fryar. Albany/Dougherty County is a poster child for consolidation. The efficiencies are obvious. It has worked well for Athens/Clarke Co and Columbus/Muscogee Co. What's so pathetic is that the reason for resistance has evaporated. There was at one time a black majority in the city, but not in the county as a whole. Blacks opposed it so as not to forfeit their newfound "majority" status. That is no longer the case. Blacks are a majority in both the city and county, so there would be no dilution of their overall control. The only thing holding it back now are petty territorial positions of power, which might be threatened in the reshuffling. What pathetic self-centered local leadership that won't let this issue go to the voters. It is too bad that there is no one among them to champion the community's best interests.

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

An attempt at consolidation will make the Smelling-Lewis fight look like a schoolyard tiff. Why would those in the uninc area want to become part of the Albany welfare machine and its thirst for dollars to "solve" its poverty problems? Not to mention the tourist venues like Chehaw, RQ, and ACRI that will never become self sufficient and a downtown that the city is hell-bent to "develop". And let's not forget all the blight that must be addressed at taxpayer expense as it is working out. With what Albany does with its money, even the late Billy Mays would have fallen on his face.

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dingleberry 2 years, 5 months ago

What is needed is an audit of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of management and operations but such will never happen. We will continue on with the same financial audits which basically produce little. Those who run the government really don't won't things to change, and they won't. Enjoy your tax increase.

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