CHARLES WESTBROOK: Raising property taxes not the only solution

GUEST COMMENTARY: Dougherty County and Albany officials need to consider new approaches

Charles Westbrook

Charles Westbrook

The truth is sometimes hard to take when the facts differ from what you have either been told or taught by others. A few of our commissioners need to research, and listen to, the facts rather than using their time and time again phrases that represent a “that’s the way we have always done it” approach.

After reading the article in Tuesday’s Albany Herald about the need for pay increases by the Sheriff’s Department, the quote by Commissioner Hudgins prompts a response. Hudgins said after the meeting, “The only choice we have (in granting employee raises in FY 2014) is raising the millage rate. I hate to say that, but that’s just the facts.”

No, raising property taxes is not the only choice. District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, who chairs the County Commission’s Finance Committee, made a similar comment a couple of years ago when I and some others in our community challenged the commissioners with finding ways to reduce expenses. Commissioner Hudgins indicated there was no way to reduce the existing expenses. Instead of taking a leadership role to do comparative expense ratio analysis with other similar sized counties, the result was a 2 millage rate increase in the property taxes for the Dougherty County Unincorporated area.

After the tax increase was implemented and the commissioners were weary of hearing from many in the community about the need to reduce expenses, the county commissioners decided to take a different approach. They prompted the division heads to start looking at their budgets, line-by-line. The very next year they were able to find about $900,000 in expense reductions. Amazing that in the year before there was no way to reduce expenses, and then the next year they were able to find a significant amount to reduce in their budgets.

These newly found expense cuts were much different than what Commissioner Hudgins presents as “facts” for only having one choice to raise taxes again. The county and city employees, our dedicated law enforcement personnel and teachers have suffered way too long with multiple furlough days and negative impacts to their take-home pay.

Maybe it is time for this long-term commissioner, along with other city and county commissioners in our community, to consider a different approach when presented with a significant expense reduction alternative. Eliminating duplications in city and county services by combining resources has been proven to reduce expenses by other counties, and businesses, for years.

This approach also conveys a message that this community is willing to be leaders, to be progressive, and to be aware of how tax dollars are being spent. This is the message that could attract new businesses with jobs for our community. It would also provide the resources for pay increases without having to continually rely on property tax increases. It just takes the right people with the knowledge and vision to make it happen.

Charles Westbrook has been a resident of Albany for the past 12 years. He is a retired bank consultant and past president and vice president of the River Pointe Neighborhood Association.