You cut off your nose to spite your face. Bet you like it that way, don’t’cha?
There are some words that are always going to get a reaction. It’s like pushing a magic button: Say the word, get the response.
One of those words popped up as the Dougherty County Commission’s Finance Committee took care of a little housekeeping last week, a seemingly innocuous bit of business that usually wouldn’t get so much as a “meh” from people who keep up with the county government’s doings.
But one of those words — reappropriate — jumped out in a 48-point headline in Wednesday’s Herald, and suddenly this mundane bit of business took on a new life, somehow becoming ground zero for everything that is wrong with Albany, Georgia, America, Earth and the Universe.
A synopsis: The state Department of Transportation previously required government agencies to have a certain level of funding put aside for infrastructure work that was typically undertaken by a party not associated with that government before DOT would move forward with work on projects in that government’s jurisdiction. That being the case, the Dougherty County Commission asked the voters of the county to approve $400,000 in a 2004 special tax referendum for utilities relocation on work it hoped DOT would do on a State Highway 133 widening project.
The voters approved the money. However, less than a year later the DOT — no doubt at the urging of lobbyists such as the Association County Commissioners of Georgia — rethought making governments responsible for work that would most likely be conducted by a third party and rescinded the requirement. That made the $400,000 allocation, as County Administrator Richard Crowdis called it, “moot.”
Jump forward seven or eight years, and the county government finds an appropriate use for the $400,000 that was now not needed for its original purpose: as its share of an almost $800,000 project to replace a badly faltering roof at the Northwest Library branch. By having the matching share in place, the county fully expects to get an equal allocation from the state.
A seemingly logical solution to a problem that is not going away.
However, when news of the plan reached the public, Dougherty citizens immediately started crying foul, accusing the county of misappropriating funding, misleading voters and other such crimes against humanity. Comments ranged from a call to return the money (get your receipts ready everyone ... let’s see, that comes out to 3.2 cents for everyone who lives in the county and all the out-of-town shoppers who spent their tax pennies here) to typical anti-SPLOST rhetoric.
Before we go there, a little bit of inside info to those who “keep up” with government goings-on through online chats: I would challenge you to find not $400,000, not $4,000, not $40, not $4 ... but one red cent in Dougherty County SPLOST funding that is not accounted for. I don’t care if you’re Crowdis’ closest friend or his most bitter enemy, I’d bet the farm you will not find a penny of intentional misappropriation. The man runs the tightest financial ship I’ve ever seen.
I’m not saying some of the projects that have been funded through the special tax haven’t tended toward the frivolous, especially in light of some of the serious infrastructure problems that hang over the county and city like a razor-sharp Sword of Damacles.
But Crowdis not going by the SPLOST book just ain’t happening.
I also find it intriguing that citizens would criticize the county’s plan to use the available $400,000 to put a needed roof on the library. The alternative is for the county to come up with the full price of the project from its tight budget. Isn’t the idea of a representative government, after all, to elect and hire people to make decisions like this that are in the best interest of the citizens?
As for the “don’t ever vote for SPLOST sentiment,” well if you’ve got this thing about removing noses to spite faces, then by all means, keep that penny. Don’t, however, start whining when the already aging infrastructure starts crumbling around you. And don’t start complaining when cuts in services start making your life a little more inconvenient.
It’s the hundreds of millions of SPLOST dollars — as much as 40 percent of them generated by folks who don’t even live here — that have allowed the county and city to upgrade their infrastructure and pay for quality services.
Before you try to rally the anti-SPLOST troops to make one of those “We’ll show them” anti-tax points that always seem pretty hollow when they end up hurting way more than they help, maybe you ought to ask propertyowners how they feel about your plans. After all, they’re the ones who’ll have to pay for every project and every service upgrade once the SPLOST millions go away.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.