4th letter: The commissioners’ SPLOST shell game

[Editor’s note: Paul Lentz has written a series of letters exploring the dilemma underlying the SPLOST issue. This is the fourth in that series of letters.]

A fatal flaw in the “Fayette County Core Infrastructure SPLOST Plan” (“the Plan”) is the County Commissioners’ apparent misunderstanding of what “stormwater management” means.

Stormwater management is not just culverts, dams, ditches, streams, and detention ponds, as the commissioners seem to think, or want us to think. Stormwater management includes all rainwater runoff, runoff that must be channeled to prevent flooding and erosion and to reduce pollution, including chemicals and suspended sediments.

In creating the Infrastructure SPLOST Plan, the County Commissioners have conflated road maintenance with stormwater management. And, it appears that they propose to commingle stormwater management costs with property taxes and sales taxes from the SPLOST.

If you understand the term “shell game” or know of the game of Three Card Monty you are equipped to understand what the Fayette County commissioners are doing with the Infrastructure SPLOST.

They’re shuffling money from multiple sources into multiple funds and budgets in a way that Mr. Charles Ponzi might admire. And, it looks as if they’re going to get property owners of the municipalities of Peachtree City, Tyrone, and Fayetteville, which already have stormwater programs and fees, to pay for county stormwater projects. That may not be the purpose of the shell game, but it’s the result.

The stormwater management plan (SWMP) that the county filed with the state of Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, addresses “all new and existing point source discharges of stormwater from [the county’s] small municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) …”

That is, culverts, detention ponds, swales, creeks, private lakes and dams do fall under the SWMP.

The SWMP also calls for public education and outreach, public involvement and participation, illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site stormwater runoff control, post-construction stormwater management in new development and redevelopment, and pollution prevention/good housekeeping.

In proposing the Infrastructure SPLOST, politicians are promising county residents that they will not be subject to the stormwater utility fee for four years. How, then, do they plan to pay for these activities? (Do they even have any idea of what this entails?)

The Aug. 12, 2013 press release posted on the county website makes it clear: stormwater management compliance activities — which should be funded by a county-only stormwater utility — will be funded through general revenues.

It appears that the commissioners plan to pay for these stormwater activities from the general budget — which includes money paid in property taxes by Peachtree City, Tyrone, and Fayetteville property owners and residents.

The county commissioners are double-taxing property owners in these municipalities. And it’s the large voter base in Peachtree City, Fayetteville, and Tyrone the commissioners are counting on to pass the SPLOST.

Are they stupid, or do they think we’re stupid? (That’s a rhetorical question to which I think we all know the answer.)

Oh, and am I the only one who sees the connection between stormwater management responsibilities for illicit discharge detection and elimination as well as pollution prevention and the recent and ongoing problems with hazardous chemicals in the Fayette County drinking water? (Yes, manganese, trihalomethanes, and who-knows-what-else is in our water can be hazardous.)

The county has had a stormwater management plan in the form of a permit and notice of intent for some time. But what, if anything, has been done? If we dig deeply, will we find another debacle such as was found in the water department?

Three Card Monty has been declared illegal because it’s a scam, a cheat, a dishonest game. Stormwater management funding for Fayette County, including the so-called Core Infrastructure SPLOST being proposed by the county commissioners is just as crooked, just as dishonest, and should be just as illegal.

SPLOST Scorecard —

Against: “Plan” does not justify the money being asked for; set-aside taxes for specific purpose; shell game; apparent double taxation of property owners in municipalities.

For: Best way for Peachtree City to pay for cart path expansion and maintenance and for street maintenance.

Paul Lentz
Peachtree City, Ga.