Madison County SPLOST dollars are like the T-shirt that won’t cover the gut. You can pull and pull, but they won’t stretch enough to do the job, not entirely.
County commissioners heard the pleas from department heads last year on how sales tax money could be used over the next six years. And everybody who took the podium made good points on why they need the dollars. Yet, the board was ultimately a little too nice, agreeing to divide the pie into so many pieces that nobody leaves the table with enough in their stomach.
We reported last week that the BOC plans to borrow $5 million to fund the jail project and borrowing money is a good decision. The BOC wants to avoid paying more money in construction costs in years to come. And getting funds up front, rather than waiting for inflation to take effect, is smart. What wasn’t a good decision was allocating just $3.3 million for the jail expansion on the SPLOST referendum. Board members knew the project would cost more than that, but they heard legitimate requests from county department heads and wanted to do all they could to avoid cutting funding for needed projects. So, they shorted the jail project by an estimated $1.1 to $1.7 million. That shortfall must be covered with general funds, meaning local property owners must cover the added expense, rather than shoppers at local stores.
Ultimately, the BOC was right to push for the jail expansion, but they should have done some extra whittling away on what projects actually made it onto the SPLOST ballot. The discussions they will soon have about trimming jail expansion costs will be necessary because they shied away from hard cuts during SPLOST planning last year.
The SPLOST issues are among the most important county leaders must face. And the BOC ought to consider revising county policy to mandate that future boards hold their first SPLOST meetings at least two years prior to any sales tax renewal referendum. The current shortfall in funding for the jail seems like a product of the rushed nature of last year’s SPLOST planning.
I express my thoughts on these funding issues knowing full well that any political commentary these days is examined for election-time motivations. The “who are you for?” mentality is hard to shake when the signs cover the yards of our neighbors.
But it’s my personal goal — and the aim of this newspaper — to avoid the teams and offer a straight shot. We don’t feel comfortable with allegiance to any candidates, not when we’re trying to give readers objective material to form their own judgments.
Instead, I’m most passionate about systemic issues related to election and governance. As I’ve harped on so many times before, the primary election system is truly flawed. For instance, if you want to offer support to incumbent sheriff Clayton Lowe or his challenger Troy Asmus in the Democratic primary, then you can’t vote for the county commission chairman or BOC representatives in districts 1, 2, 4 and 5, which are all on the Republican ticket. Instead, you have to choose to participate in one election at the expense of having your voice heard in another.
That’s a real shame.
All county voters should have the opportunity to cast a ballot in every race that directly affects them. Anything short of this begs for reform.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal