Monday, October 25, 2010

SCHS Pigskin Update

My alma mater Indians defeated Lumpkin County in Dahlonega last week by the score of 35-24.

SCHS (6-2, 3-1) rounds out the month of October by hosting the North Hall Trojans (4-4, 2-2) this coming Friday at The Reservation in Toccoa in the 8AAA (Division A) finale for both teams.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Impertinent Observation

On WGAU’s Tuesday morning newscast, I heard coverage of the previous evening’s Athens Press Club candidate debate that included candidates for the Clarke County Board of Education.

What caught my attention was the sound bite by David Redman, a candidate for the District 7 seat (sorry - couldn't find a web site); while the other candidates’ audio clips concerned this or that education topic du jour, Redman’s quote concerned . . . parenting.  Imagine that, someone running for the school board who actually realizes that education starts in the home.

Without the desire to learn on the part of students, and just as importantly on the part of students’ parents, simply throwing money at the schools will not yield positive results.  We’ve tried that for a long time now – it does not work.

Addendum – Here is David Redman’s campaign web site (with a Pink Floyd reference, no less; David Gilmour and Roger Waters would be proud).

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fire Station No. 6 – Six Hundred Days and Still Closed

Believe it or not, this coming Friday, 22 October, marks the 600th day since the snowstorm related closing of Fire Station No. 6.  This fact leads to some observations on my part, some of which are not necessarily new, but I think that they are worth repeating nonetheless.

1) The fifteen month delay in starting reconstruction of the station was entirely by choice, not by necessity.  The funds currently being used for the station’s reconstruction are the same funds that could just as easily been employed for that purpose fifteen months earlier.  City Hall wasted well over a year by trying, and pointedly failing, to get someone else to pay for a structure that was more elaborate that needed.

2) Because of that needless delay, the Unified Government played with fire –literally.  It gambled that no serious blaze would occur in the part of the county covered by Fire Station No. 6, completely dismissing concerns as to the adequacy of fire protection provided to that part of the county by other stations. As the J&J Chemical Company fire amply demonstrated, City Hall failed on this point, as well.

3) Any suggestion that the extended closure of Fire Station No. 6 had any consequences regarding the J&J Chemical Company fire, with regard to either lengthened response times or as a contributing factor to the chemical spill resulting from the fire, are met with categorical denial by anyone who even deigns to address the matter.  Apparently, polite company simply does not discuss such things.

4) Once again, those residents in the general services district are treated as second-class citizens.  It is inconceivable that such a voluntary delay in reopening a fire station would have occurred regarding any of the in-town facilities such as Fire Station No. 1 on College Avenue, Fire Station No. 4 on Oglethorpe Avenue, and sure as Hades not the elaborately overbuilt Fire Station No. 3, a.k.a. the Five Points Taj Mahal.

5) As a corollary to points enumerated above, no one connected with the Unified Government (elected officials, appointed officials, staff, or even candidates running for office) has indicated that the voluntary decision to keep the station closed for such an inordinate period of time is worthy of note.

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The TOA District 1 Candidate Questionnaire

We are a mere two weeks from the general election and, though the contest for mayor has garnered far and away the most attention and the District 5 race has slung far and away the most mud, other important races are on November’s ballot.  Out here in the hinterland where I live, the District 1 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission is up for grabs (the one for which I unsuccessfully campaigned in 2002 and 2006).  So, as a public service, here is what doubtlessly will be the only candidate questionnaire concerned specifically with that race.

See Farley Jones’ response here; her campaign web site may be viewed here.

See Doug Lowry’s response here; I have neither found nor seen mention of a campaign web site for him.

The questions were submitted to each candidate via email.  The candidates’ responses are presented exactly as received by me, without any editing whatsoever.  Farley Jones submitted her response as a Microsoft WORD document; I simply opened this file as a WordPerfect document, which I then saved as a PDF and placed on Google Documents.  Doug Lowry provided his response as both a Microsoft WORD document and as a link to something that he placed on Google Documents himself.  I was unable to get the link to work correctly in a blog post, so I similarly opened his Microsoft WORD document in WordPerfect, saved it as a PDF and placed it on Google Documents.

Contrary to what some may beleive, the questions are in no way “gotcha” questions, as each of them deals with specific policies and/or ordinances proposed, enacted, or ignored by the Unified Government.  Additionally, several of the questions have particular relevance to District 1.  To wit:

  • Question1 concerns a specific provision of the Unified Government’s Charter vis-à-vis the millage rate in the “general services” district, which encompasses the entirety of District 1.

  • Question 2 concerns property tax “circuit breakers,” an idea put forth repeatedly by the current Mayor.

  • Question 3 concerns the “conservation subdivision” ordinance, which pertains to the county’s AR zones and thus to District 1.

  • Question 4 concerns the Commission’s practice of using development moratoria to craft policy in an ad hoc manner based on personal likes and dislikes, rather than using them for legitimate “emergency” situations.

  • Question 5 concerns the agreement reached between the residents of the Dunlap Road area and the Unified Government – subsequently broken by the latter – concerning expansion of the landfill.  The landfill is located in District 1.

  • Question 6 concerns the status of Ben Epps Airport vis-à-vis the Clarke County Airport Authority.  Since city-county consolidation, the commissioner representing District 1 has been the Commission’s representative on the Authority (until the last redistricting, the airport was located in District 1; it is currently located in District 4).  Also, the question concerns implementation, or rather the conspicuous lack thereof, of a specific provision of the Unified Government’s Charter.

  • Question 7 concerns Fire Station No. 6, the only Unified Government fire station located in District 1, which has been closed for going on 20 months.

  • Question 8 concerns the upcoming SPLOST 2011 ballot resolution.

The questions themselves are:

1.  The Unified Government’s Charter plainly states that the millage rates charged in the county’s various tax districts should reflect the level of government services available in those districts (see            Section 1-105(b)). Instead, for years City Hall has charged those who live in the “general services” district the same millage rate as those who live in the “urban services” district, even though they receive far fewer services. Do you support reducing the millage rate in the general services district to compensate for this lack of services? Why or why not?

2.  The current mayor has repeatedly called for a “circuit breaker” mechanism that would link one’s property taxes to one’s income. Regardless of the practical difficulties that may accompany the implementation of such a plan, do you support this approach in theory? Why or why not?

3.  The “conservation subdivision” ordinance enacted years ago slashed the property values of rural residents by making land in the AR zones essentially un-developable. In the several years since the ordinance was adopted, not a single such subdivision has been built, or for that matter even proposed, because the requirements are so draconically restrictive (and no, the Orange Twin development did not meet the requirements for a conservation subdivision). Do you favor revisiting this ordinance? Why or why not?

4.  Instead of limiting their use to emergency situations, the Commission has imposed a wide array of development moratoria as a means of crafting policy in recent years. These measures routinely are instituted with little to no advance notice, either by adopting them at special called sessions held on nights when votes would not normally be taken or by adding them to the agenda of regular voting sessions at the last minute. Either way, this practice has the effect of rendering the existing zoning ordinances meaningless, since they can be (and have been) suspended at any time. Do you support this practice? Why or why not?

5.  The written agreement signed on behalf of the Unified Government with the Dunlap Road citizens group promising that the Athens-Clarke County landfill would never be expanded proved utterly meaningless. Given the two decades-long history of broken promises to those who reside in the formerly unincorporated areas of the county, why should they have any belief that the Unified Government will finally live up to the commitments previously made to them?

6.  For almost two decades, the Commission has steadfastly ignored those provisions of the Unified Government’s Charter that call for extending services into the formerly unincorporated areas of the county (see Sections 8-115 and 9-103) and for turning control of Ben Epps Airport over to the Clarke County Airport Authority (see Part II, Chapter 4, Section 23). Do you support adhering to these explicit provisions of the Charter? If so, what will you do to implement them? If not, should the Charter be amended to eliminate these provisions? Why or why not? If the Charter should be amended, should it be through a popular referendum or unilaterally by a vote of the Commission?

7.  Fire Station No. 6, located at the intersection of Athens and Olympic Drives has been closed for more than a year and a half due to the snowstorm on 01 March 2009. This extended closure may well have played a part in the environmental damage resulting from the J&J Chemical Company fire. Rather than rebuild the station with the insurance money and its own funds, the Unified Government postponed any reconstruction activity for almost fifteen months, during which time it unsuccessfully sought an Obama Administration “economic stimulus” grant to rebuild the station. Was this the appropriate strategy? Why or why not? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

8.  Even though the mayor and commission ostensibly sought to pare down the Unified Government’s original $170 million SPLOST 2011 proposal, when the project list came up for a vote they actually added another year to the levy and increased its amount to more than $195 million.  Do you favor passage of the SPLOST 2011 ballot resolution?  Why or why not?

Admittedly, these questions reflect my own political point of view and interests, a fact I freely admitted to the candidates when I originally contacted them and for which I make no apologies whatsoever.  Besides which, in that regard the TOA questionnaire is no different from any other submitted to local candidates.  Insofar as commentary by me on the candidates’ responses, is concerned, there really does not need to be much – regular readers (and yes, there are some) are fully aware of my opinions on the questions presented.

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SCHS Pigskin Update

My alma mater Indians dropped a 14-21 road decision to the White County Warriors last Friday.

This week, there will be Indians aplenty, as the Stephens County variety (5-2, 2-1) travels to Dahlonega to take on the Lumpkin County variety (5-2, 2-1) in another 8AAA (Division A) contest.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Athens-Clarke County Sample Ballot

Courtesy of the Board of Elections, here is an Athens-Clarke County sample ballot for the general election to be held on 02 November.

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The Truth About SPLOST And Property Taxes

Just to make sure that readers understand the opposition to the SPLOST 2011 ballot resolution is not just based on stereotypical anti-government sentiments, as some would surely have you believe, consider these two articles from the fine folks over at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government (who knew that such a hotbed of conservatism and libertarianism was so discretely closeted on North Milledge Avenue).  Both appeared in the Institute’s Policy Notes publication.

The first article (Vol. 2, No. 3) is entitled Property Tax Relief in Georgia: The Local-Option Sales Tax (LOST) and dates from March, 2001.  Notes this first article:

Whereas an extra dollar of LOST revenue provides about 28 cents in property tax relief, it leads to an increase in total spending of about 48 cents.  In sum, the findings illustrate that LOST has partially achieved the objectives of property tax relief, but on balance it is more an augmentation of than an effective substitute for property taxes in Georgia counties.

In other words, the increase in spending associated with the imposition of LOST far exceeds the value of whatever property tax relief is achieved (but since the latter is the ostensible purpose of LOST, this fact kind of defeats the point of the exercise, doesn’t it?).  Yes, I know that the article deals with LOST.  But, of course, LOST, SPLOST, and ELOST are simply variations on the same theme.  For all of the legalities, see O.C.G.A. Title 48, Chapter 8, Sales and use Taxes.

Besides which, if the version of local-option sales tax expressly devoted to property tax relief is, at best, only marginally effective, why should a variation not devoted to property tax relief achieve that goal any better.  Of course, it does not.

Which brings us to the second article (Vol. 3, No. 7), which is entitled SPLOST Has Little Effect on Borrowing to Finance Capital Improvements but Does Lead to Increases in County Spending and dates from July 2002.*  Notes this second article:

Contrary to what was expected, the study found that SPLOST does not reduce property tax burdens.  Instead, two variables tend to increase; the per capita amount of property tax collected and the amount of property taxes expressed as a percentage of personal income.  Moreover, although the use of SPLOST seems to slightly reduce property tax rates, rate reductions do not necessarily lead to actual reductions on the amount of property tax collected.


In addition to increasing capital spending, SPLOST can trigger more spending on maintenance of capital equipment and facilities, as critics have argued.  An extra dollar of SPLOST revenue results in a 50-cent increase in total spending: 38 cents in capital spending and 12 cents in current operating spending.


With the changes in fiscal federalism over the past two decades and the need for local governments to diversify their revenue bases, SPLOST seems to have emerged as a successful revenue diversification measure in Georgia.  Although it does not appear to be a substitute for long-term borrowing or an instrument for reducing property tax burdens, there is strong evidence that it results in counties spending more on both capital and operations.

SPLOST revenue does not replace property tax revue, it merely adds to it by “diversifying” a county’s tax base.  And remember that, by law, SPLOST funds cannot be used for operations or maintenance.  So, since the single largest source of revenue for county governments is property taxes, that additional spending for operations and maintenance comes disproportionately from (all together now) property taxes.

Of course, these academic observations jibe exactly with our local experience, as the Clarke County School District maxed out its portion of the millage rate years ago and the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County has increased its portion of the millage rate in each of the last three years – quite apart form the issue of increased assessments – even as both claim that their respective SPLOSTs will obviate the need for property tax increases.

*Thanks to Stephen Alexander for digging this one up.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

(Yet) Another Reason to Vote NO

I was reviewing the claims on the “pro” SPLOST 2011 site put up by the citizens committee appointed by the mayor and commission to develop the initial project list and budget.  The first two of those claims immediately caught my attention.

1.  Visitors will pay for half of SPLOST 2011

Because of our unique location and heritage − and, of course, the University of Georgia − Athens is a hub for visitors from all across Georgia, and beyond, who come for shopping, sports, and a wide range of services. Since 1985, over $314 million has been collected in Clarke County … one SPLOST penny at a time. About half – over $150 million – from non-residents for improvement and growth of our community.

The alternative for raising money for any of the SPLOST projects is to raise property taxes.

I dealt with this one in a letter to the editor years ago.  Wrote I, in part, back in November 2001:

The contention that 40 percent of the money raised by the renewed SPLOST will be paid by people who live outside of Clarke County may be entirely accurate; it is also entirely meaningless. The logic of the argument is that Clarke County residents will get 100 percent of the SPLOST's value, while only paying 60 percent of its cost. If Clarke County were the only county with the extra 1-percent sales tax, the argument may have merit. However, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue's Web site, all five of the counties adjoining Clarke County also levy the extra 1-percent sales tax. Eight of the other 12 counties which, along with Clarke County, comprise the 11th congressional district levy the additional 1-percent sales tax. In fact, 109 of Georgia's 159 counties levy the additional sales tax.

This is where the logic of the argument fails. While the residents of surrounding counties may pay a certain percentage of our SPLOST, I dare say that we pay a similar percentage of theirs. Of course, the voters in all of these counties were led to believe that someone else would be paying a considerable portion of their SPLOST. In other words, they would be getting something for nothing. It is a fiscal impossibility for the various counties' SPLOSTs to pay out more money than is paid into them. Thus, there is no free lunch to be had here. We all end up paying higher taxes; the money merely gets filtered through different county bureaucracies.

The specifics may have changed, but the argument is still valid.  Note that the 40% figure tossed out back then has now risen to 50%, a figure I do not believe for a minute.  This tail end of the first claim segues nicely into the second one.

2.  Property taxes will be saved

Athens-Clarke County has the smallest land mass of Georgia’s 159 counties, but is the fourteenth largest county in population. Yet 47% of its land value is exempt from taxation. This means that, if we did not have SPLOST, all capital projects would have to be totally funded with our property tax dollars, putting an unfair burden on property owners and their renters to the benefit of visitors and commuters. For example, if just the new jail fell on residents − instead of SPLOST − property tax on a $150,000 home could increase over $70 a year.

As noted yesterday, this one hasn’t worked out as promised, either (see here, here and here).

Pointedly, no corroboration whatsoever is given for either of these claims.  As usual, we’re just supposed to take the claims of advocates of bigger, more expensive government at face value.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Reason to Vote NO

I think that the voters of Athens-Clarke County should send the SPLOST 20011 ballot resolution down to defeat for an array of reasons of reasons.  This is just one of them.

To amplify commenter geronimo509’s point, a Carl Vinson Institute of Government study entitled “Property Tax Relief in Georgia: The Local-Option Sales Tax (LOST),” found that:

“Whereas the extra dollar of LOST revenue provides about 28 cents in property tax relief, it leads to an increase in total spending of about 48 cents.  In sum, the findings illustrate that LOST has partially achieved the objectives of property tax relief, but on balance it is more an augmentation of than an effective substitute for property taxes in Georgia counties.”

Granted, the study dates from about a decade ago, but I see no reason why its conclusions would not still be valid.  See Policy Notes, Vol. 2 No. 3, on the CVIO web site.

Also, Rebuild SPLOST is having a town meeting.  Says Michael’s web site:

Rebuild SPLOST has set a town meeting for Wed., October 2oth in the auditorium at the public library on Baxter Street. The 6pm town meeting is formatted to be a public conversation on the referendum before Athens-Clarke County to extend the county’s 1% local sales tax for 9-10 years. Volunteers-no matter their position on the referendum- are needed to help organize the event. Rebuild SPLOST is a non-partisan ballot committee that opposes the current referendum. For more information about Rebuild SPLOST or too volunteer or RSVP for the event please call Michael Smith at 706-850-5896 or e-mail (

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Monday, October 11, 2010

SCHS Pigskin Update

My alma mater Indians posted a convincing 53-14 win over Chestatee last Friday at The Reservation.  This week, SCHS (5-1, 2-0) travels to Cleveland to take on the White County Warriors (4-2, 1-1) in another 8AAA (Division A) tilt.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

SCHS Pigskin Update

My alma mater Indians defeated the Franklin County Lions last week in Carnesville by the narrow margin of 10-7.

SCHS (4-1, 1-0) next faces Chestatee in another 8AAA (Division A) contest.  The War Eagles (2-3, 0-1), coming off of a 38-55 loss to North Hall, travel to The Reservation this coming Friday.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On The Radio

Michael Smith and John Marsh, local critics of the SPLOST 2011 proposal from either side of the political spectrum. sound off on Tim Bryant’s Newsmakers.

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