Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Audit the Unified Government’s Property

I addressed the Unified Government at the second of its three legally-mandated TBOR hearings (13 May) pertaining to the FY 2011 budget; to the best of my knowledge, I was the only person to speak at any of the hearings. Be that as it may, my recounting of City Hall’s somewhat disingenuous claims of lowering property taxes in recent years received some press coverage.

What did not get any mention was my suggestion that an audit of the Unified Government’s property be conducted. You know, a survey to answer such questions as: What properties does the local government own? To what uses does it put these properties? Could they be put to better uses? What are the plans for the properties going forward? Could any of these properties be returned to the tax base? Needlessly to say, all I got in response from the government paycheck types in attendance, both elected and appointed, was glassy-eyed stares.

Things went quite a bit better when I addressed the Overview Commission at its fourth public input session last Friday (06 August) at the Chamber of Commerce. Reflective of the meeting’s locale, the session began with a discussion of economic development topics. Having been on the Development Authority of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County for some years, I had a few thoughts in that regard. That discussion, in turn, segued into one concerning the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles faced by businesses and/or industries thinking of locating here which, in my opinion as one who has campaigned for office twice and been involved in local affairs for a good while now, are far more considerable and burdensome than need be.

Finally, I had the opportunity to comment on my reason for being there in the first place. My wife and I live in what is euphemistically termed the “general services” district. I say euphemistically because, when it comes to providing the basic services expected of a local government, we are conspicuously underserved by the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County. This fact brings into sharp relief the discrepancy between City Hall’s obligations under the Charter and its actual practices. Simply put, the Unified Government employs systematic discrimination against those of its citizens who live outside the former city limits of Athens as a matter of policy.

That section of the Unified Government’s Charter quoted on the Overview Commission’s web site that repeatedly says “all” means just that; the residents of the general services district are entitled to just as many governmental services as the residents of in-town neighborhoods. After all, that was the explicit promise used to sell the idea of city-county consolidation the third time is came up for a popular referendum. Such promises were even written into the new government’s Charter.

Once city-county consolidation became an established fact, however, the rules began to change. For about the first decade under the Unified Government, residents of the general services district were treated with what amounted to benign neglect. Some improvements were made in terms of running water lines along a (precious) few main roads (but, as I recall, only after the Unified Government had been threatened with legal action in conjunction with chemical leakage from the landfill) and the outlying areas of the county did get Fire Stations 8 and 9 (but even that took many years after the new Stations 3 and 4 were built in areas that already had fire protection? – and by the way, Fire Station No. 6 has been closed for a year and a half and will remain so for some months more).  And that has been about it.  Our betters down at City Hall have made it abundantly clear that those other water and sewer lines that were promised and incorporated into the Service Delivery Plan are not going to happen.

Despite paying the same property tax millage rate and being subject to the same capricious reassessments as the folks in Five Points and Cobbham, we general services district folk might as well live in Oglethorpe County insofar as the provision of basic governmental services is concerned. When it comes to deriving revenue from us, however, the Unified Government regards us as being just as much a part of Clarke County as anyone else (see above), as imposition of the Stormwater Utility Fee proves.

So, the end result of my pontificating to the Overview Commission was three recommendations:
1. The Unified Government should actually abide by the provisions of the Charter (a radical concept I know)
2. Current or projected SPLOST projects should not undo or lead to the dismantling of previous SPLOST projects (as a taxpayer, I do not relish the thought of paying for something to be built, only to pay for then having it destroyed, and then paying for having it rebuilt elsewhere, i.e. the ball fields connected with the never-ending Tennis Center debacle)
3. The property of the Unified Government should be audited (what brought this back to mind is the concern expressed by some at the meeting about the suitability of the proposed location for new diversion center)

I appreciate the work being done by the members of the Overview Commission and thank them for their service to our community. Since the Overview Commission was appointed by the grand jury rather than the Mayor and Commission, even if it can do nothing but make recommendations, perhaps some good will come from its deliberations.  Even if that is the case, those inside the rail have made it known that they intend to unilaterally amend the Charter so as to reflect their self-consciously "progressive" ideals - the rest of us be damned.

The purpose of the Overview Commission is to hold the Unified Government accountable. For two full decades, though, residents of the general services district have been treated to a staggering litany of denial, delay, sophistry, and obfuscation as pertains to full implementation of the provisions of the Charter. Thus, the Unified Government needs to held accountable.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I still see little incentive to change the Unified Government apparatus and a strong presumption that it remain in tact. On the other hand, storm clouds are gathering: Personally, I presume we will see, at some future point, a 'strong' mayor with dynamic powers to match the rapidly changing economic situation.

Sadly, if Gwen had never won, we'd probably already be at this place; a lot of the 'focus on the objective manager' stuff got started just to stop her.

Now, though, we have a government run co-equally by the staff and the manager; the manager even warns the elected officials that they are NOT to discuss matters with ACC employees, but to route all queries through his office ..

And that's probably why ACC is now retrofitting the finest water business office in the state or nation; because staff wanted it! In fact, the manager said there was no other choice ...

And why we have the 5pts. clock tower; the new solid waste department; and on and on ...

Because ANY information the M&O receives comes with the staff 'spin' courtesy of the manager; and now in the teeth of the biggest downturn ever, STAFF wants to spend $195 million MORE, largely for projects that will benefit THEM.

Something needs, and will, be done and it's not going to be pretty!

I can't imagine the overview folks would get all this; their time would be well spent cataloguing properties; it'd also be helpful to assemble a complete lists of debts faced by both the unified government and the BOE. These are going to be more and more important as debt deflation makes debt the Albatross it was for nearly all the years before the Great Moderation.