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CHARLES WESTBROOK: Albany-Dougherty County LOST negotiations expose inefficiencies

Guest commentary: Albany and Dougherty County should merge local government boards.

Charles Westbrook

Charles Westbrook

The recent news articles about the LOST (local-option sales tax) tax fund votes by the city and county commissioners is yet another demonstration of misdirection, lack of communication and an inefficient local body of commissioners.

As an example of misdirection, a city commissioner indicated the county is not fully funding the contracted fire services located in the Dougherty County unincorporated district. Another city commissioner concluded the city should therefore receive a higher percentage of the LOST tax funds. Even though this city commissioner made a false statement about not receiving the contracted payments, the fire services agreement has nothing to do with the allocation of LOST tax funds. Also there was no mention, probably due to a lack of understanding, that these county fire department resources and services are shared with the city when needed for additional help with an emergency that crosses the designated city/county boundaries.

There are other resource sharing inequities for both the city and county when it comes to reviewing many of the services used by Dougherty County residents. As an example of other inefficiencies that could be interpreted as needing to be renegotiated between the city and county commissioners, just ask the city group how much they contributed as their share of the agreed upon Gang Task Force for the past year.

The solution to this unfair distribution of resources should have been to allocate the actual incurred expenses for this group to each of the agencies supplying resources rather than relying on each group to provide allocated personnel. If the city failed to provide their portion of personnel resources, there is no penalty and the county winds up incurring the expenses for resources and services mainly used within the city. Should this be renegotiated for proper allocations from the city to the county?

Also, I guess the city reps forgot about the significant tax benefits received from the Walmart store located in the unincorporated district. The Tax Allocated District (TAD) boundary lines were redrawn so that these tax revenue benefits would go to the city. Should the county renegotiate a split of these tax revenues from the city?

The district attorney resources are budgeted by the county, but are mainly used for crimes committed within the city boundaries. The libraries are located in the city limits, but their expenses are budgeted by the county. Should these services be renegotiated for proper allocations of expenses with the city?

There are still many inefficiencies with having both groups of city and county commissioners. Taxpayers are funding a total of 14 commissioners for Dougherty County (seven for the city and seven for the county). Most citizens do not understand that most of these commissioners overlap boundaries, which can cause service duplication and confusion.

We also still have some duplicated services between the city and county, even though most have already been consolidated. Most counties our size, and even larger, function with just five commissioners and have eliminated the resulting taxpayer funded inefficiencies.

This latest round of votes on the LOST tax funds is a prime example of wasted time and taxpayer funds. The taxpayers should not have to fund the lawyers, consultants and on-going studies for each of these groups to try to persuade the other with their interpretation of a percentage split for these tax funds.

So, for the city commissioners to focus on the fire services contract as needing to be renegotiated, they should not stop there. Go ahead and include the many other inequities in your renegotiations in providing services to the residents of Dougherty County. And don’t forget to include in these discussions the significant inequities for the residents in the unincorporated district who pay the LOST, but do not receive any of the benefits toward reduced property taxes that this tax was intended to provide.

The real solution to making improvements to be more efficient is to consolidate the remaining services and the two boards of commissioners. If you want to see a commissioner who is not interested in being efficient with taxpayer funds, just ask them if they are in favor of consolidation. All you will hear are surface excuses for why this is not a good idea.

What we need are stronger leaders with a vision to make this happen!

Charles Westbrook has been a resident of Albany for the past 11 years and has 25 years of experience in bank operations management. He is a past vice president of the River Pointe Neighborhood Association.