published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Drew’s views

HEADLINE: Whitfield OKs 1 mill property tax hike

THE RECAP: By a 3-2 vote, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners approved a 1 mill property tax increase at its meeting Thursday night.

The tax hike will cost taxpayers in the North Georgia county about $2.5 million. The county will still have a deficit of more than $2 million, which will be funded using reserve money.

DREW’S VIEW: Tax increases are justifiable — if the county is performing only necessary services and every last penny funding those services is well spent. In Whitfield County, that certainly isn’t the case.

If the commissioners bothered to thumb through the county’s bloated $40 million budget, they would’ve noticed plenty of opportunities to cut spending and save taxpayer dollars.

For example, this year the county will spend $157,000 for marketing efforts in the name of economic development, $150,000 to subsidize the senior center and $25,000 to fund a Civil War heritage project.

The Whitfield County budget earmarks $29,000 to fund the sheriff’s department’s travel expenses and another $18,000 to fund the department’s office supplies.

Whitfield County residents are also shelling out:

• $970,000 for the county’s substantial Parks and Recreation budget;

• $300,000 to subsidize the failing Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center;

• $150,000 in giveaways to the convention and visitor’s bureau;

• $16,800 for the county I.T. Department’s travel budget;

• $8,750 in handouts to the Heritage Center Museum; and

• $5,000 to fund a “consultant” for the county commission.

The federal government provides enough taxpayer dollars to fund the county’s rural transit program...if it is run well. Unfortunately, it’s not. The transit program gives elderly and disabled residents rides anywhere within the county for $4. The problem is that the service costs $14 per ride to operate. Even with more than $600,000 in federal assistance, the program is so far over budget that county taxpayers will spend $70,094 to subsidize the service this year.

Perhaps the county’s most ridiculous expenditure is the $24,000 budgeted to fund the county commissioners’ travel expenses. How can the county commissioners justify forcing through a tax increase when they plan to burn through $24,000 taking trips, attending junkets and nickel-and-diming taxpayers on mileage reimbursements?

The county has one of the lowest millage rates in Georgia. Still, that is no justification for raising taxes when there are so many questionable expenditures in the budget.

It’s obvious that the three county commissioners who voted for the tax increase, Gordon Morehouse, Harold Brooker and Commission Chairman Mike Babb, were unwilling to act as responsible stewards of tax dollars. They could’ve easily trimmed $2.5 million from the budget. Instead, they treated taxpayers like ATMs, raising taxes to extract money for a variety of unnecessary, inefficient and wasteful expenditures.

By raising taxes, it’s clear that Babb, Morehouse and Brooker put taxpayers last — and that’s something that Whitfield County voters should remember the next time they are up for reelection.

•••

HEADLINE: Chickamauga manager places campaign signs on city time

THE RECAP: A photo has surfaced on Facebook showing Chickamauga, Ga., City Manager John Culpepper putting up campaign signs for Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell on city time, and while driving a city vehicle.

Culpepper fully admits to using public resources to campaign for Heiskell, a violation of state ethics rules.

DREW’S VIEW: Chickamauga’s mayor and city councilmembers who employ John Culpepper should give him a week to refund taxpayers for the small amount of tax dollars lost when he engaged in campaigning on work time and in a city-owned vehicle. If Culpepper fails to do so, he should be fired immediately and replaced with someone willing to follow ethics rules.

If the mayor and city council members are unwilling to require Culpepper to repay taxpayers, they too are complicit in Culpepper’s inappropriate use of public resources and clear violation of ethics laws.

•••

HEADLINE: Chattanooga attorney to teach classes on Sunshine Law

THE RECAP: The city attorney’s office will start giving quarterly classes on the Tennessee Sunshine Law to city appointed boards. The law is intended to make sure that citizens are made aware of, and are allowed to attend, public meetings so that they may witness what their government is doing. Any board that received 30 percent or more in city funding must abide by the law.

The decision came after Councilwoman Pam Ladd alerted the rest of the council that some city boards were violating the law.

DREW’S VIEW: While Councilwoman Ladd would not disclose which city boards or agencies were in violation of the Sunshine Law, one organization appears to consistently and blatantly skirt the law.

The Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority Board of Commissioners is seemingly unwilling to comply with mandates requiring its members to act in a transparent, accountable fashion. The Airport Authority is notorious for changing its meeting times and dates without reasonable public notice and failing to announce when the rescheduled meetings are to occur. This practice appears to be an effort to prevent interested members of the public from attending meetings and having a voice.

Additionally, Airport Authority meeting agendas are not available online and minutes from the board’s monthly meetings have not been posted to the Airport Authority’s website since March. Deliberately or not, the board members of the Airport Authority certainly give the impression that they don’t want Chattanoogans to find out what they’re up to.

Here’s hoping that Ladd’s efforts compel the Airport Authority to clean up its act.

“Drew’s views” is a weekly roundup of Free Press opinions about topics that appeared in the Times Free Press over the past week. Follow Drew on Twitter: @Drews_Views.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
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