People who manage money always talk about a “diversified portfolio.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
A community is wise to think like this too. You don’t want to pull revenue for roads, emergency services and other community projects from one source. Such a plan puts a lot of burden on a few people, instead of spreading it across to many. It’s smarter to diversify revenue intake from various taxing sources and fee structures. This is unpopular, for sure, because no one enjoys paying taxes or fees for anything. I don’t either. But over the years, I’ve come to recognize that the importance of “personal responsibility” includes assuming some “collective responsibility,” too. Basically, if I enjoy having an income and going to work every day, then I need to recognize that I need to have roads to get there. And if I am unfortunate enough to be in a wreck on the way, or robbed at home, or woken by fire alarms, I need a paid dispatcher on the other end of the line to summon the right people to my emergency. I can’t expect to have these things for free, unless I take the attitude of a “freeloader,” which I don’t want to do.
So I realize that taxes are unpleasant — absolutely — but they are a necessary part of maintaining a good community, where people get to work and school smoothly and get the help they need when necessary.
Like you, I recognize there are always people — both rich and poor — who will try to game the system to their advantage. There are some very clear inequities in how taxes are applied. There are examples of government abuses of tax money. There is an assortment of bad things that we see all the time that rightfully elicits an emotional response from us. I get really fired up too at “the government,” just as I get really angry about things in “the media,” even though I’m a part of “the press.” Along those lines, the recent shutdown accomplished one thing — it united us emotionally in rage, even if we were deeply divided over what deserved our fury.
But we have to keep those feelings from consuming us entirely, because emotions don’t fix potholes. Emotions don’t pick up heart attack victims and rush them to the hospital. Emotions don’t chase down a bank robber.
We need real people with real tools to do such jobs. We need to recognize that we all have some stake in these things being functional locally. And because of this, we need to set aside our negative emotions over the broad state of things and realize that practical day-to-day matters of public service are worthy of funding in the most equitable way possible.
I can understand why a vote against the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) carries a lot of gratification. It’s a vote against “the government.” That’s clear and understandable, given our modern-day angst toward widespread dysfunction. Likewise, there are ticket items in SPLOST that could be debated on ideological grounds. For instance, some staunchly oppose funding for infrastructure to accommodate future water and sewer needs — 11.5 percent of the anticipated revenue would be directed this way. Others are totally opposed to funding the recreation department, saying money for kids’ play is an unnecessary extravagance for the community. A total of 1.9 percent of SPLOST funding would go toward recreation services. Likewise, there’s a little money, $42,000, toward renovating the upstairs of the historic courthouse in Danielsville. There are those who think this is pointless. Courthouse renovation accounts for .3 percent of SPLOST.
Meanwhile, 52.4 percent of SPLOST money will go toward roads. If you vote “No,” you can still drive on these roads, but you ought to have the decency to bite your lip over more bumps.
Another 8.3 percent will go toward equipping the 11 volunteer fire departments in the county. And even if you vote “No,” unpaid firemen will come to your house and risk their lives if you wake to a blaze at 3 a.m. Just realize that the equipment they bring might not do the job as well as it would with a “Yes.”
Another 11.6 percent of SPLOST will go toward maintaining the county’s patrol cars and ambulances. The employees in these emergency vehicles will still respond to you if you vote “No.” Just recognize that a vehicle with 250,000 miles on it is way more likely to encounter engine trouble as it races to your home than one with 25,000.
Another 12.1 percent of the money will go to the county’s six towns. They will use these funds for various road, water service and equipment upgrades. If you vote “No,” these cities will remain, just recognize that they may have to look toward property tax and fee increases to maintain what they have.
Another 1.2 percent will help the 9-1-1 center have more reliable radio services, while .6 percent of SPLOST will be spent on replacing old equipment at the county transfer station — hardly extravagances.
Ultimately, you may feel gratified in voting “No” Tuesday on SPLOST, but you’ll be voting against maintaining current services. You’ll be voting against diversified revenue streams in favor of increased burden elsewhere. Why? Because leaders aren’t going to abandon maintaining roads or emergency services. They’ll look at property tax increases, fee increases — or borrowing money.
In my eyes, a “Yes” to renewing SPLOST is akin to a community voting to keep paying the light bill. Some may favor the dark, but I don’t want to be in that house. I have confidence that most of you don’t either.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
SPLOST went from a great way to fund a few projects now it's wanted to run our government it just goes to show the more we give the more they want. We pay taxes on gas for roads and very high gas tax at that so asking for more is a slap in the face. Patrol cars wouldn't need to be replaced as often if they were driven correctly and not stomping the gas every time they take off, 911 is a work from home job in many states and anyone with a PC can do it. Vote no on SPLOST to send a message SPLOST is not a government funding tax it is a special purpose tax.