Observations: A fix-it ‘crisis’ & government responses

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Cal Beverly

Get ready for a steady stream of news the next few months about budgets for Peachtree City, Fayetteville and the Fayette County School System. (Tyrone and the county government also have budget-setting on their calendars, but the tone from both will be less urgent than the other three.)

The loudest cry of urgency by far comes from Peachtree City Hall, driven by neighborhood street repaving needs and major intersection traffic jams.

The school system has a pot of E-SPLOST money and has already decided it’s going to build a new Booth Middle School for $40 million on 37 acres bought from Peachtree City United Methodist Church.

Fayetteville is plowing ahead using its own pot of SPLOST money, and a new City Hall and central park is moving from drawing board to contract awards, and don’t get in their way.

Maybe an easy way to explain SPLOST funding is to call it the least painful way to tax and spend. You don’t get one screech-producing property tax bill during the fall. Instead you pay for it every day, pennies on every dollar, that you hardly notice everytime you buy a mocha grande or cheeseburger or a pair of shoes. But picture carton character Scrooge McDuck swimming in his cash-filled vault through enough moolah to drown in.

Fayetteville has a movie studio and nearby movie-like village paid for by a billionaire, so much of that infrastructure is a gift. With SPLOST bucks, city spenders can envision using public money to make downtown Fayetteville a hip walk-and-drink attraction for those fickle Millennials to come … uh, walk and drink. And bureaucrats building themselves fancy new digs at public expense is just one of the perks of public service. Others are never-declining wages, great health insurance and unrivaled retirement benefits.

The school system is tired of its old middle school in Peachtree City. After an elaborate show of considering “options,” it bought the property it wanted for the new school site and afterwards voted for the very option that presumed the need for a new site instead of an old-fashioned, cheaper, repair job. But, hey, they preserved the notion of an actual choice. And that’s important, right?

Now give them their due. They sold their old headquarters site to Fayetteville for the new city hall and park, and then moved a couple of blocks over into what is actually an old building, the old Fayette County High School, built more than a half-century ago. Of course, some renovation had to occur — and did — but they get a B+ for converting what is still a usable complex into the new system headquarters and Board of Education meeting room. (Some of us are dubious that they intend to stay for long in that un-Taj Mahal. So where will an appropriately grand headquarters be built? Be of good cheer, though: Maybe the grand new HQ will append a performing arts center as its raison d’etre. Your E-SPLOST at work.)

Now with all that refurbishing money available, you’d think the school system could afford to buy a couple of video cameras with which to televise their board meetings. Even though they have sophisticated audio-video systems in the high schools — even teaching kids how to plan, produce, record and broadcast whole video programs — they still haven’t figured out how to live-cast a Board of Education meeting twice a month. You think?

Give ‘em this though: They have figured out audio-only podcasts, which they record and then post in an out-of-the-way link on the school system’s website a day or two after the meeting. Nothing like timely accountability to the public.

Peachtree City provides its own crying towel as it laments the sorry state of repairs our forebears have left us in — meaning three council terms ago, when none of the current members was in office.

City Manager Jon Rorie’s approach to hold down the number of miles of street repaving to be required is simple, if somewhat draconian: Stop using the streets.

Well, not everybody; just the garbage trucks. If we could just abolish that pesky capitalistic notion of choosing our own trash hauler, we wouldn’t have to repave our streets so often. Rorie says having one city-chosen trash hauler is better than raising city property taxes by one mill to keep re-doing the streets.

And besides, monopolies in trash hauling are common all over Georgia. So what’s your problem and why not here?

One little aside: Since when did we residents of Peachtree City check the box in the terms of service contract that says, in effect, we residents are one undifferentiated group of consumers that may be marketed as such, and we belong to the city government to be offered as a lucrative lump of captive customers to whomever the city’s bureaucrats choose?

If the city government can press us — all 35,000 of us — living in Peachtree City into one marketable lump to be bargained over, bid for and sold out — for a franchise fee paid to the city government — that kind of out-Googles Google and out-Facebooks Facebook in deciding who owns us and our individual economic choices.

And why stop with garbage service? In some states, liquor sales is a state monopoly (and you can imagine the corruption that comes with that). Why not groceries? Have Kroger, Publix, and assorted others bid on the captive market of Peachtree City. Award the grocery franchise to just one.

Your life would be much simpler: If the winning monopoly bidder didn’t have what you want, you could either do without, drive outside the city or try Amazon. But those Amazon trucks cause wear and tear on the streets — oh, my. No problem: Ban Amazon, FedEx and UPS deliveries inside the city limits, unless each truck would pay a street surcharge to the city.

Why not home repair service? No problem with code enforcement issues then. Why not tree-cutting? Why not lawn service? How about that newest hot thing, restaurant delivery services? Boil ’em all down to just one city-chosen, mandatory franchise. The possibilities are endless. And think of the revenue possibilities for City Hall.

Sorry, got carried away there with my silly free market vs. democratic socialism reveries. But don’t you see? It would still be democratic, because we would get to vote on the few elected officials who would then delegate the power to the bureaucrats who make the rules and who would be far better equipped to make our economic choices for us.

Seriously, like every created thing, stuff wears out and has to be replaced or repaired.

Folks, we residents and visitors wear the city out. What do you want to do to pay for the repairs? Communicate with the city.

[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993. He moved to Peachtree City in January 1977, when the 54-74 intersection was a 2-lane, 4-way stop.]

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