The doctor and the SPLOST


Picture this: Paramedics wheel in to the hospital emergency room a grossly obese man in obvious distress (his name could be anything, even Cal).

“Doc, his heart just stopped and he needs help right now,” the EMT says.

“No, get him out of my ER until he loses at least 150 pounds,” the ER doc shouts. “He brought this on himself, and until he drops all that unnecessary weight, I’m not working on him.”

“But, doc,” the EMT pleads, “he’s dying and he needs your help right now.”

The ER doc is unimpressed. “Here’s a list of weight loss clinics. Let him pay them first.”

Apologies to ER doctors everywhere for this little parable intended to provide some perspective on the $141 million March 21 sales tax referendum now being decided in early Fayette voting.

In our pages today and in recent weeks, several people have spelled out what they like and dislike about the proposed extra penny tax that’s overwhelmingly devoted to repairing and maintaining infrastructure in our cities and county: roads, bridges, culverts, cart paths, public safety equipment for police, fire and EMT personnel.

I’ve read all their reasons for and against the extra penny tax, and respect their opinions.

And I’m voting “YES” for SPLOST.

I agree with some who say that local governments once funded these necessary expenses out of local property tax dollars, augmented by bond borrowing that was also repaid out of property tax revenue. I agree that’s the way it once worked. That way doesn’t work anymore — unless you want to pay nearly twice what you already pay in property taxes.

I recently received notification of my new, more expensive monthly mortgage payment. It went up because I received an 18-percent hike in property taxes, simply because the tax assessors believed the value of my property increased that much year over year. And that was with NO increase in millage rates imposed by city or county governments. Would I rather pay for road repaving by the penny or by the tax assessors’ pound?

I agree with some’s opinions that local governments could do a better job of defining what services are essential and which are “nice to have.” They haven’t gotten there yet.

My great-aunt often told me as a child, “Don’t cut off your nose just to spite your face.” I repeat her wise advice: Don’t use your SPLOST vote to voice your displeasure with our local officials. Save that for the next city or county election, when you can choose to vote only for those candidates who promise to hold the line on any growth of the local government bureaucracy.

To use an example in Peachtree City, where I live, a successful SPLOST vote will bring in an additional $7.6 million a year for six years to repair roads, improve intersections, keep public safety equipment updated.

A property tax rate of one mill in Peachtree City produces about $1.9 million. The city’s current millage rate is 6.756 mills.

To get the same dollars — and the same repairs and upkeep — through city property taxes, you would have to pay nearly four mills more than you are now paying — nearly a 60 percent increase.

Now no elected officials in their right minds would advocate such a hefty hike in your property taxes. But the repairs and maintenance have to be paid for, and the current millage rate won’t even make a dent in what’s needed. So where’s the needed money going to come from, while the potholes just keep getting worse?

I think the answer is this: We can pay the easy way — via an extra penny tax on each dollar of retail sales, or we can do it the hard way — without much of the needed repairs and maintenance, and still take a property tax hit for the absolutely can’t-be-delayed infrastructure work that will not go away.

I choose the easy way. I stand with the EMT and say, “Doc, help our patient now. He can’t take the delay.”

Vote YES for SPLOST. And purpose to find some candidates for local office who will commit to ways to lower your property tax burden while proactively keeping our roads pothole-free and stemming the growth of the local government bureaucracy.

A “NO” vote hurts both your nose and your face. And solves nothing: you’ll still have to repair that pothole in your face.

Please note that I also agree with the ER doc: The patient needs to lose some weight. But restart his heart first. Then we can join together at the next city-county elections to get the patient slimmed down.

[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993. He has lived in Peachtree City since 1977.]