THE COLLAPSING OF OUR "HOLOGRAPHIC" GOVERNMENT

Over the last 10 years, the cities and counties across Georgia, like across the nation, without really understanding the full dynamics or unintended consequences have been building “holographic” infrastructure on the backs of the local taxpayers (individual & business) . We now shockingly realize that taxes have been the government’s version of crack cocaine. Bright, gleaming police cars, gluttony pension plans, 5 weeks of paid vacation, double dipping retirement and employment policies. Soaring facilities, city halls, jails, police & fire stations, courthouses and a legion of recreational “country clubs” and state run golf courses stand as monuments to the glory of the politicians and the excess of the roaring economy.

It’s now recognized that tax bases were annually inflated by the economic rising tide, splost revenue was inflated by overzealous consumer expenditures and outrageous services fees on top of more outrageous services fees fueled the political governmental mentality akin to a “spring break – gone wild” movie. But in the words of investor Warren Buffett:

”now that the tide has gone out, we can see who’s been swimming neked!”

In our haste to spread our lotteryesque windfalls, no one took into account what it really truly cost to run and staff a 424 bed jail in Jackson County nor calculate the hvac and lifeguard bill to run community centers, the clipping and grass cutting bill for thousands of acres of parks , the security staffing cost for all of the new court houses, or the maintenance costs of expansive secondary schools and gymnasiums (better facilities than most college campuses), man all of the fire trucks or provide personnel to oversee hundreds of new ordinances and charges.

In a bloated economy, no one watches the store. The spin and hype of community boosterism overwhelms the psyche, envelopes the mind with well intentioned progress.

An invincibility mind set emerges: “never, no not here. We’re different.” The argument “well if we don’t use the state/ (federal) grant we’ll lose it” doesn’t stand muster either. That money isn’t free; it’s still the citizen’s hard-earned scrip. We now see future commissions/councils further shackling the local government budgets. So today we have roads that serve little to no purpose in South Georgia. We run small town transportation systems that have abysmal occupancy and full scale government video production facilities in many counties broadcasting meetings on cable TV to audiences of less than a handful. We have hook and ladder fire trucks following 2 police cars and an emergency response van to every fender bender when one response vehicle might do.

Alas, we have built a great gleaming monumental infrastructure called 21st century civilization, only now the taxpayer and local businesses are trying to hurdle a bigger mountain to financially support it.

No one wants to talk about, nor touch the declining values on a county’s tax base nor heaven forbid, approve an increase in millage rates, nor cut back on any departments budgets. In the eyes of most local government managers everything is sacred, everything is essential government services. While businesses have swallowed the bitter pill of downsizing, local governments have been impotent in their actions. It’s hard to fathom how they can pat themselves on the back and ‘hold’ budgets and taxes at “par” when most Georgia businesses have slimmed their overhead 10 15 to 30%? It’s too hard to take away an entitlement once it’s been given.

Raising user fees for services, permits, user fees, sprinkler fees, fire protection surcharges, water/sewer rates, garbage collection, and applications is not the panacea either. The citizens are too smart, businesses too savvy for those actions and are starting to wake up and voice their concerns, first privately in the coffee shops, then at the ballot box. The quiet pro business revolution is simmering. “How do we continue to feed the monster?”

Ronald Reagan said “when a business or individual spends more than it makes it goes bankrupt. When government does, it sends you the bill.”

It’s time to re-prioritize government services into two buckets – “must haves” and “like to haves” then strongly demand they shift financial resources accordingly. The pain for the most part will be temporary, the noise loud.

Other thoughts

We should be fully supportive of Splosts as funding mechanisms it’s the accountability and stewardship of the expenditures that’s gives us concern

Evaluate “gifts” or “grants” of state or federal money based on long term reoccurring costs to the citizens. Look carefully at employment stimulus grants for the same unintended consequences of forward financial commitments and long term tax payer burdens. Free is not free.

■all counties and the state need to find a way to improve the efficiency of the education delivery system to hold down cost (both secondary and primary). The lottery has been a miraculous windfall but we can no longer rely on that sustainable flow of income

Reduce planning, permitting and inspection departments to a sound solid core. County governments must face the reality that there won’t be a construction development boom for 8 to 10 years. They’re not needed for planning and zoning, but we also caution against shifting them to long range planning or new ordinance creation, that’s just playing a shell game with human resources.

■find a way to scale back, warehouse or eliminate services that no longer serve the masses. ‘If it doesn’t cash flow – let it go.”.

■face the reality that government does not exist for the sake of employees. It exists to assist and govern non-government employees.

■become business friendly, not revenue enhanced. Strip laws, ordinances and fees passed over the last 10 years to the bone. Look at the full ordinance cost of enforcement and implementation. Recently, it took Norton’s staff 3 manpower hours to fill out 3applications, produce a scaled drawing to permit a temporary “party” tent on our office front lawn, that’s private property. These applications were processed by numerous govt employees, and later once erected was inspected by a fire Marshall for safety. The same tent used hundreds of times in the city. The permit cost was $5.00. Permits for permit sake are just one word – bureaucracy.

The stark reality is that government got too big because we thought we had unlimited sustainable resources. In the boom times Georgia governments artificially pumped up tax collection rates and over spent. In 2007 -2009 as the revenues shrank many local governments’ depleted reserves to keep things in the status quo and now face empty coffers. We do note that some are attempting to replenish.

We have all enjoyed the fruits of a hologram government dazzling the citizens with virtual magic and little or no substance. Now it’s a time for a major fast.

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