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Tuesday's public hearing allowed citizens to share concerns about raising taxes
Bulloch County Commissioner Roy Thompson, District 2-C, uses a roll of duct tape to illustrate a point about the difficult nature of budgetary decisions during Tuesday's public hearing at the County Annex building. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Comm meeting

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    After hearing Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch give a presentation including reasons why he proposed county commissioners approve a tax increase, a handful of citizens attending the public hearing Tuesday night countered with arguments against raising taxes.
    The meeting, held at the Bulloch County Annex, drew about 25 citizens and a number of county department heads and employees.
    Couch explained how the county has, for six of the past seven years, dipped into the fund balance to balance the budget. He explained how further cuts to a budget that has already been reduced in the past would result in eliminating services. But citizens still insisted there was some excesses that could be cut further, and other ways to balance the budget besides raising taxes.
    "We've bitten off more than we can chew," said Terry Patray. "Bulloch County needs to get out of the landlords business and out of the trash business."
    He said the county needs to change its ways and "cut back in services." The county should stop using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) money to build new projects that require maintenance, he said. "The Republican principle is small government - let's stick to it."
    Janice Grumbles said she did not want a reduction in services, even if it did mean an unwanted rise in taxation.
    "I for one want the services the police, the sheriff's department, the animal control officers can provide us," she said, adding that if a tax increase is necessary, she supported the move.
    Bill Wayne, who told commissioners he was a small land owner, had a suggestion for revenue.
    "What would you say if we could find a half million, a million?" he asked, suggesting the county charge for extinguishing fires along Interstate 16. Couch later told him county leaders are investigating ways to implement user fees for such services.
    Mike Hendrix expanded on implementing user fees.
    "User fees have got to go up," he said. "You can gouge land owners only so much. You have to have some way of getting the burden off the tax payers. People doing ... developing (that increases the county's growth), they need to be footing some of this bill."
    Former Bulloch County commissioner Wayne Groover said he understood the current commissioner's plight and asked them to look for ways to minimize the proposed tax increase.
    "I see it coming," he said. "We can't avoid it."
    He did say money used for the S&S Greenway would have been better put to use for road work.
More questions and suggestions
    Mildred Harville raised the question of how people on fixed incomes would handle the tax increase.
    She also questioned why lights at local recreation facilities must burn all night long, stating one particular facility was "reamed in lights burning like  the broad daylight" after midnight. "Is that necessary?"
    Another expense she felt should be cut is the Keep Bulloch Beautiful money.
    "Quite frankly I haven't noticed any difference since we started funding Keep Bulloch Beautiful," she said. "We just can't afford that much beautification."
    Robert Wiggins suggested better ways to handle beaver dams than repeatedly sending crews to tear down dams the creatures always rebuild. A county suggestion box would be a good idea, a way for citizens to share new ideas that could save money, he said.
    Carl Bragg protested the mandated change from euthanasia by gas chamber to using lethal injection for the animal shelter, and questioned why the county had to obey the mandate.
    "I'm a little tired of people trying to tell me what to do," he said. "Who is going to be sued (if the mandate is not met)? The state? The county? I don't think the animal control people would purposefully do anything to hurt the animals."
    County staff attorney Jeff Akins explained that legally, the county had to obey a direct order by  the Georgia Department of Agriculture to make the change after the department lost a lawsuit regarding the use of gas chambers. Actually, the county, under previous orders by the state department, had been breaking a state law by using the gas chamber, he said.
    Local veterinarian Dr. Stan Lee also spoke, stating the gas chamber method was just as humane, if not more so, than the lethal injection. Lee, who volunteers and is also paid for services to the animal shelter, said he had been a part of the change and emphasized the county is following the law.
    Joe Strickland suggested people on fixed incomes not be taxed for property and questioned revaluations of his property that were increased by 75 percent and more. He also suggested commissioners work towards bringing in more industry.
    "I think you hit on the silver bullet .. industry," he said. A mall along Interstate 16 would "pull in hundreds and hundreds of dollars."
    Gary Barnes suggested cutting expenses by e-mailing tax statements instead of sending letters.
    Donald Nesmith said many complaints from citizens stemmed from what they perceive as a double strike.
    "The problem is revaluation and taxes go up all in one year," he said. "The problems didn't happen all in one year."
    Couch also shared with citizens ways costs have been slashed, including reducing telephone costs from 30 cents to 4.4 cents per minute and cutting road crews down to a four-day work week to save fuel costs.
    "We probably saved $1.5 million a year" in the three years he has been with the county, he said. "But every dollar we save, something comes back and we have to spend two. It's not like we haven't tried, and we're not going to stop trying."
    "This problem is not something that just appeared," said Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil. "We have been cutting and trying to stop expenses for three years now - and we have done it. We've been working at every little thing we can think of."
    Commissioners and citizens discussed the proposed tax increase and ways to save money for about three and a half hours, with the meeting drawing to a close just before 9 p.m.
    Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed budget June 26.

Humor wasn't absent from the hearing
    During Tuesday night's public hearing on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 and proposed tax increases, Bulloch County Commissioner Roy  Thompson brought a bit of levity to the meeting. Thompson brought a brown paper bag he has been carrying to commission meetings and other places for weeks, claiming the bag contained a solution.
    "I've been told  this would fix anything, but I think I've been had," he said, pulling out a package of duct tape.
    Thompson also shared a list of suggestions from citizens he collected over the past few weeks as he visited area restaurants. "Some are good, some are .. not," he said.
    The suggestions, which he pointed out did not come from him but from various citizens, included the following:
    • Close all recycling centers.
    • Close the animal shelter. Take (animals) out to the landfill, shoot them with a .22, cover them with dirt.
    • Drop Keep Bulloch Beautiful.
    • Say "no" to everything.
    • Stop courthouse security.
    • Use the hospital authority's money.
    • Seek more revenue from (projects) like Splash in the 'Boro.
    • Assess all farm land as if it were developed land.
    • Privatize EMS.
    • No employee raises.
    • No volunteer fire departments. (Thompson pointed out volunteer firefighters are not paid.)
    • Let inmate trustees man the recycling centers.
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