Friday, April 30, 2010

Second Salvo

As a follow-up to my initial installment from earlier in the month (see the letter to the editor and the corresponding blog post), here is the second in the series of broadsides against the Unified Government.

Those who live in what is euphemistically called the “general services” district, meaning the formerly unincorporated area of Clarke County, have had the screws put to them in a variety of ways since city-county consolidation. It is high time that they started getting compensated for being treated as second-class citizens for two decades.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who Didn't See This One Coming

The mayor’s proposed FY 2011 budget includes a property tax increase of 0.5 mills. On top on the 0.25 mill increase for FY 2010. On top of all of those assessment increases over the past couple of years. Gee, what a surprise.

The schedule for legally mandated TBOR hearings and public comment is as follows:

• Hearing #1 – Wednesday, May 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the Planning Auditorium at 120 W. Dougherty Street [followed by a Mayor & Commission Work Session on the FY11 Budget]

• Hearing #2 – Thursday, May 13 at 5:30 p.m. in the Planning Auditorium at 120 W. Dougherty Street [followed by a Mayor & Commission Work Session on the FY11 Budget]

• Hearing #3 – Thursday, May 20 at 6:45 p.m. in the City Hall Commission’s Chambers at 301 College Avenue [followed by a Mayor & Commission Agenda Setting Session]

• Public comment – Thursday, May 20 (Agenda Setting Session) - 7:00 p.m. - City Hall Commission Chamber

• Public comment – Tuesday, June 1 (Regular Voting Session) - 7:00 p.m. - City Hall Commission Chamber

See the full proposed FY 2011 budget here (large PDF).

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Music, Juleps, & Roses

Athenians will have the opportunity to experience the run for the roses first hand at the Classic Center this May as the Athens Symphony Guild presents “Music, Juleps and Roses: A Kentucky Derby Event.” As the horses race for the coveted garland and trophy, Athens revelers won’t miss a hoof beat -- all while raising money for talented University of Georgia students.

“We have done fundraising events every year,” said organizer Libby Hollett of the Athens Symphony Guild, “but we wanted to create a single event that the community could look forward to each year, and that offers an option that Athens has never had before.”

Saturday, May 1st from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., guests will find themselves transported to Churchill Downs with red roses decking the Classic Center and preliminary races, the big race and the post-race parade broadcast on wide screens. Those who enjoy the excitement of betting will have the opportunity to place “faux bets,” with none of the risk of actual betting but the chance to win prizes for picking the winning horse.

A large derby-themed buffet inspired by the famed cuisine of Churchill Downs’ sumptuous Chef Tables will feature traditional tastes of Kentucky, complemented by the race’s signature drink, the mint julep, which will be offered in both the traditional and non-alcoholic version for guests to sip as they watch the races and take in the derby day fashions around them.

Ladies particularly will be rewarded for stepping up their derby fashion at the event, with a chance to take one of the Derby Hat Competition’s categories, ranging from the most elegant hat to the most outrageous.

The winners of the “Win, Place and Show” cash raffle will be announced, with prizes of $1,000, $500 and $100 respectively. Raffle tickets are available for $10 each and winners are not required to be present the day of the event. Additional door prizes will be given to some of the event’s lucky attendees.

There will be no shortage of entertainment as musicians from the Athens Symphony provide music throughout the event. Guests will enjoy the sounds of a brass quintet, a woodwind quintet and a string quartet, as well as multi-instrumentalist Joe Causey, a violinist in the Athens Symphony who will be tickling the ivories during the races.

All proceeds from “Music, Julep and Roses: A Kentucky Derby Event” will benefit the Athens Symphony Guild’s scholarship program for students at the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music. Since its creation in 1992, the guild has offered four to seven scholarships each year to deserving students, who in turn share their gifts with the Athens Symphony.

“Our scholarship recipients play such an important role in the orchestra,” said conductor Albert F. Ligotti. “They bring their talent, musical knowledge and leadership to the group, often serving as section principals.”

Tickets for “Music, Julep and Roses: A Kentucky Derby Event” are $75 each and available for purchase at Aurum Studios, Appointments at Five, Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace, and Elizabeth Ann Florist, or by mail at Athens Symphony Guild, P.O. Box 726, Athens, GA 30603. Cash raffle tickets are offered at $10 each.

More information on Music, Julep and Roses and the Athens Symphony guild may be found at Athens Symphony Guild or at the symphony’s Facebook page.

About the Athens Symphony Guild

The mission of the Athens Symphony Guild is to promote and support the activities of the Athens Symphony in all appropriate ways, including education, public relations, fund raising and other ways deemed necessary. Since its creation in 1992, the guild has promoted awareness of the Symphony through educational projects and fundraising events, and has sponsored scholarships for four to seven University of Georgia Hugh Hodgson School of Music students each year.

About the Athens Symphony

The Athens Symphony was founded in the summer of 1978, when a group of local musicians convened following a survey by the Clarke County Office of Cultural Affairs that determined a strong desire within the community for a symphony orchestra. Early on, it was decided that the orchestra should be a not-for-profit organization, that its members should be unpaid volunteers from Athens and the surrounding communities, and that its concerts should be both free of charge and appealing to general audiences. Al Ligotti was immediately identified as the ideal conductor due to his wealth of musical experience, enthusiasm and high musicianship, and continues to lead the orchestra as it completes its 32nd season.

The non-profit organization operates through the generosity of private donors and the support of its sponsors: Athens Area Health Plan Select; Athens Banner-Herald; Athens First Bank & Trust Company; AT&T; Blasingame, Burch Garrard, Ashley, P.C. Attorneys at Law; Chick Music; The Classic Center; Georgia Power; Jackson Spalding and WGAU 1340 am.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Opening Salvo

Though I will not be running for office, I fully intend to remain engaged in the doings of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County and the Clarke County School District. To that end, consider this recent letter to the editor as my opening salvo in this year’s election cycle. To reiterate innumerable such letters and blog postings, the residents who live in the formerly unincorporated area of Clarke County have been treated like dirt by City Hall since city-county consolidation – and it is high time that they start raising Hell about it.

Which leads me to this. Given my political proclivities, it comes as no surprise that I am inclined to support Charlie Maddox for mayor of the Unified Government. Had there been any doubt whatsoever, though, it was allayed by this concerning last Saturday’s mayoral forum sponsored by Common Ground Athens, a self-styled “community resource center for groups and individuals working for progressive social change” (kind of tells you all you need to know right there, doesn’t it?):

Athens-Clarke officials should follow through on their 20-year-old promise to offer sewer service to the entire county, mayoral candidate Charlie Maddox said Saturday at a forum on environmental issues.

The Athens-Clarke Commission voted Tuesday to strip sewer line extensions in Northern Clarke County from a $91 million plan to upgrade the system. Alone among the five candidates, Maddox said it was the wrong decision.

"We need to go back and look at some of the promises that were made in that area," he said.

Damned right we need to go back and look at some of the promises that were made – in quite a few areas.

So, instead of talking honestly about real issues (yes, I realize just what may constitute “real issues” is subjective – but it is my blog), we will get treated to yet another election cycle steeped in the usual progressive shibboleths: more deletions from the Service Delivery Plan (the Charter be damned); TDRs (we have neither “sending” zones nor “receiving” zones because the development potential of the former has been gutted and any proposed density increase in the latter is fought tooth and nail by the NIMBYs and BANANAs); affordable housing (any lack of which we may have is due to its being zoned out of existence through ordinances that intentionally drive up the cost and regulatory burden of development); bike paths (on which hardly anyone rides); the hallowed Green Belt (which merely serves to drive development further out and results in people being in their cars more, not less, and transfers our sales tax dollars to neighboring counties); and assorted “green” this and “sustainable” that.

As I have written elsewhere, the core services that a local government is supposed to provide are but an afterthought here in Athens-Clarke County, especially for those folks living in the hinterland, though we seem to have plenty of money to placate progressive interest groups.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

CCSD FY 2011 Budget Follow Up

The Clarke County School District unveiled its “tentative” budget yesterday evening. The document anticipates a spending level of $118,702,397 (plus $7,764,340 in reserve funds for a total of $126,466,737).

In order to make up the shortfall between anticipated revenues and expenditures, the plan is to lop 70 positions off of the personnel rolls. Of that number, the vast majority will be elementary school and special education parapros (45) and middle and high school teachers (12) – you know, those folks in the classrooms (of whom parapros are paid the absolute least) as opposed to the legion of administrators over on Mitchell Bridge Road.

The tentative budget will be voted on 15 April, with final adoption slated for 24 June. See the budget overview and budget summary for yourselves.

As an aside, the Unified Government is already making noises about potential tax increases.

And so it goes.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

CCSD FY 2011 Budget

Adoption of a tentative budget and tentative millage rate for FY 2011 are items 15 and 16 under “New Business” on tonight’s Clarke County Board of Education agenda. The budget figure will remain a mystery until then, but rest assured that the millage rate will remain at the constitutional maximum of 20 mills (unless a referendum is proposed to exceed that limit).

The schedule for the CCSD’s legally mandated budget hearings appears below (all of the hearings are scheduled from 6:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. and are open to the public):

25 May – Gaines Elementary School

27 May – Alps Road Elementary School

01 June – CCSD Administrative Office Board Room

For the record, the budget approved by the CCSD for FY 2010 was $122,263,068 (not including $5,608,920 in reserve and $750,000 in contingency funds, which served to bring the total budget amount up to $128,621,988). Typically, money is added to the budget throughout the fiscal year, so I am not sure as to the final budget amount for FY 2010. For what it is worth, the Georgia Department of Educations gave the amount of FY 2009 expenditures as $132,560,274.19.

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Protesting The Obamacare Student Loan Tax

Obamacare is full of all manner of fiscal chicanery; so, just as were the cases with TARP and the “stimulus,” we will be finding out about the various bad provisions that are hidden in this legislative monstrosity for months to come. With that in mind, read about this upcoming protest, courtesy of the UGA College Republicans:

The University of Georgia College Republicans and the Georgia Association of College Republicans are hosting a Tax Rally to protest the tax that Obama Care will levy against student loans. Not only will students not be able to borrow from private banks anymore, but for every $25,000 that a student borrows he or she will pay around $2000 in taxes. This is inconceivable, but because of the narrow scope of the issue it is up to us as students to fight back.

The event will be held on Wednesday, April 14, at 6:00 p.m. right in front of The Arch on the University of Georgia Campus. We are hoping that the images of students and citizens of Georgia standing in front of the University's symbol of Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation will send a message to our lawmakers. We are tired of taxes and we want to be able to choose from whom we take our student loans.

You do not have to be a student to attend. We are inviting anyone who is unhappy about the amount of taxes that they pay and wants to do something about it.

Get used to it, folks, because a lot more of this kind of stuff is coming – just as it should be.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

If Nominated, I Will Not Run . . .

Given the fact that lots of folks keep asking me whether I intend to run for the District 1 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission again, I suppose that I should formally announce my intention and open the field for someone else: simply put, the answer is “no.”

On the one hand, the timing may well be right for someone of my philosophical persuasion to actually win in this county: the District 1 seat will be an open one, as the incumbent is not seeking reelection; District 1 is much more politically moderate than some of the others in the county; and the only announced candidate thus far is a political unknown who leans hard to the left (one of those Washington Street Liberation Army types, no less).  All of these factors could conceivably work to my advantage (after all, back in 2006 I did not get the endorsement of either the Banner-Herald  or Flagpole and received the lowest possible score from the Athens Grow Green Coalition, and still polled 45% of the vote).  Besides which, because of what has been going on up in D.C. there may well be a backlash against overarching government at all levels.  This would benefit me as I am the only local candidate in memory who has actually campaigned on limiting my own authority.

On the other hand, my current personal circumstances do not lend themselves to either conducting a campaign or serving should I be elected.  This is the same reason that I stepped down as secretary of the Clarke County Republican Committee, declined to reapply for a position on the Development Authority of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, and turned down Jim Thomson’s gracious offer to write for the Banner-Herald.  There simply are not enough hours in the day to do all of the things that I may want to do.

That is not to say that my interests in the Unified Government and the Clarke County School District have diminished; I will continue to stir the puddin’ by penning the occasional letter to the editor and spouting off from time to time here on TOA.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fire Station No. 6 - Closed A Full Year (and still counting)

Today marks thirteen full months since the closing of Fire Station No. 6 due to damage caused by an accumulation of snow on its roof. Though we may have recently passed the first anniversary of the event, there is every indication that there will be several others.

To recap, the Unified Government summarily abandoned the facility immediately upon the big snowfall of 01 March, 2009, reassigning its personnel and equipment to other stations. Rather than use the insurance settlement to repair the roof, thereby reopening the station as soon as possible, the Unified Government sought “economic stimulus” funds from the Obama Administration’s $787 billion slush fund to rebuild Station No. 6 in its entirety. As an aside, Station No 2, which has similarly experienced some construction-related woes over the years, was constructed at the same time as Station No. 6. Interestingly, the SPLOST 2011 citizen advisory committee has recommended building a new Station No. 2 with the anticipated sales tax revenue, though any such consideration of Station No. 6 is conspicuous by its absence.

I disagree strongly with the approach being taken with regard to Station No. 6; there being no particular need to rehash my previous arguments as to why, see these posts from last March, April, May, June, July, and December. Even so, I will concede that if ever there was a “shovel-ready” project, this would have seemed to be it. So what is the hold-up, other than the fact that the entire stimulus bill was a complete scam?

The most recent word from the Unified Government on the matter dates from last summer. It has been followed by months and months of deafening silence. The vacant building has remained undisturbed for more than a year, surrounded by a hastily-erected chain-link fence – complete with padlocks no less (the accompanying picture was taken just a couple of weeks ago by yours truly).

This is an election year. So, will the ongoing second-class status of the formerly unincorporated area of the county be a campaign issue? I seriously doubt it, as I am about the only candidate to make an issue of it in the last several election cycles. I daresay that the voters will be treated yet another litany of more “sustainable” this, more “green” that, more TDR nonsense, more bike paths, more Green Belt expansion, more development restrictions, more deletions from the Service Delivery Plan, etcetera.  The core services that a local government is supposed to provide are but an afterthought, especially for those folks living in the hinterland.

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