ALBANY, Ga. -- A group of disgruntled taxpayers took to the podium at Monday's County Commission meeting to air grievances related to consolidation, taxation and spending, and speed limits, and to question officials over their handling of the Dougherty County budget.
Charles Westbrook, Jim Balch, Dinorrah Hall and Tom Mueller each expressed dissatisfaction with facets of county government Monday, at times drawing the ire of commissioners, some of whom are in the middle of budget development.
Westbrook, who came to ask commissioners again to revisit the idea of a public referendum on consolidating the city and county governments, renewed his call for consolidation, but also urged commissioners to "make the hard decisions" on the budget while railing against a proposed 2-mill tax increase in the unincorporated part of Dougherty County.
"So far, we've only seen quick fixes to balance the budget. Quit trying to balance the budget on the backs of county police and employees with no pay increases and furlough days for several years in a row," Westbrook said. "These may be short-term solutions, but should never be used as an ongoing budget fix."
Westbrook's comments seemed to hit a nerve with Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, who chairs the commission's finance committee.
Hudgins attempted to pin Westbrook down, reminding him that, of the $6.4 million special services district budget, roughly $6.2 million went to fund fire services and the Dougherty County Police Department.
"I don't think you're advocating that we close down a fire station or lay off police officers, so where would you have us cut?" Hudgins said. "I'd like for you to help us. Go through the budget and find things that we can cut. That would be helpful."
When Westbrook attempted to offer a suggestion after saying that he hadn't examined the budget, the exchange got a little testy.
"I don't have all of the facts, but ...," Westbrook said.
"Then you should get some," Hudgins interjected.
Mueller complained that the commissioners were approaching the budget from too high a perspective.
"If you don't get down into the sheriff's budget and department head's budget, you won't find the savings," Mueller said. "The devil is in the details. ... Don't tell me you all are good stewards when we pay more for fewer services."
Balch brought up consolidation, saying merging departments is "the easist and quickest way to save money."
"If you really want to save money, you should consolidate the Sheriff's Office and the Dougherty County Police Department," Balch said. "I don't think you people are doing a very good job and you're stonewalling consolidation."
Dinorrah Hall told commissioners that the Georgia Department of Transportation recommendation to increase the speed limit on Philema Road was "ridculous."
"Just today, someone hit a deer on that stretch," Hall said. "Increasing the speed limit would cause more fatal crashes."
Commissioner Ewell Lyle, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Chairman Jeff Sinyard, thanked the group for getting involved in their government and speaking before the commission.
"I think you got the commission's attention," Lyle said. "Thanks for wanting to be part of the solution."
Dougherty County finance committee members will continue their review of the general fund budget at a meeting at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.