Democracy Needs Two Sides
By Alex Saitta
August 24, 2017
I wrote this in response to the article touting the almost universal unity we are finding among county council and school board members. Click here to read the article.
I read the story about the new found unity on the Pickens county council and school board. It isn’t difficult to get unity when our elected officials are getting what they want and it is us -- the public -- paying for it.
County Council Spend, Borrow and Tax:
There are many examples to support the point. The old county council saved $24 million for the new jail and planned to use most of that cash to pay for the facility. This new council set that money aside, to spend much of it on God knows what. (It is never hard to find unity when people are lining up to spend millions of dollars of other people’s money.) The council then voted to borrow all the money for the jail, quadrupling the county debt and will raise property taxes to pay for it. I supported building the jail -- much neeeded, but no councilman flush with cash like that would ever run his personal finances that way, yet this is how they manage your money.
It would be like having $100,000 in the bank, then going to buy a $100,000 home. A reasonable person would put $25,000 of the cash aside for emergencies, and put $75,000 cash down on the house, and take a loan of $25,000. Why? Because he would want to minimize the loan, and the interest cost. When you pay interest you get nothing in return. Zero. What the council is doing is like putting none of that cash down on the house and borrowing the $100,000 and spending much of the cash on something else. No reasonable person would do that with own money, yet these guys are.
Some have said the county needs all that cash for an emergency. Don’t believe it folks. The cash fund balance at the county level is 57%. That is their cash fund balance is 57% of their general fund budget. ($24 million divided by $42 million equals their fund balance of 57%.)The financial audit and rating agencies want local governments to run between 15% to 20%. The school district is 19%, for instance. I think anyone who knows about government accounting would agree that 57% is excessive and the county is swimming in cash.
And putting 250 homes below Glassy Mountain in Pickens is insane. Yet not one councilman is speaking out against it. Why? Again they’re unified, thinking of all the extra tax revenue they’ll receive as all these houses go up.
Another example, last year the school board told the public they had to close newly renovated AR Lewis elementary because a lack of funds for upgrades and maintenance. I personally heard that speech from Phil Bowers, Dr. Merck, John Eby and Judy Edwards numerous times.
This year in a 6 to 0 vote the board spent nearly a million on building upgrades and is re-opening it for another purpose, and no one on the board or in the administration pointed out how the public was misled and lied to. No one. When the ultimate aim is to unity, no one tells the public the rest of the story either.
No doubt, if I was there I would have ruined their party pointing all of this out, on the losing side of a bunch of 5 to 1 votes.
Democracy Needs Two Sides:
Our democracy promotes the creation and airing of alternative points of view, so the other side of the story is told and the public is not left in the dark or mislead. Complete unity on a board or council should worry the public. For example, the city of Liberty had unity in how it ran its budgets for years (sweeping deficits under the rug). The financial wheels finally came off in 2016 and the city was forced to go cup in hand to the county government for a bail out (fire district deal). Liberty City’s taxes are the second highest in the county, water and sewer fees went up a lot and the city was forced out of the fire protection service and all city and rural Liberty residents are paying more for the same service. This was all pointed out by the press and a come concerned citizens. It is never pretty, but we should celebrate two competing points of view, debate and votes that settle the issue. Not what this article is touting, which is one point of view, little to no disagreement and a resolution which is to spend more, borrow more or tax more in order to make everyone happy and keeping anyone from speaking out in opposition.