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.