Comparing commissioners’ words and positions then and now

After having recently served on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, I was frankly astounded by the contents of the various stories and letters involving Commission Chairman Steve Brown that were included in the March 13th edition of The Citizen.

After reading the paper, I was for some reason transported back in time to my high school days when I was required to read George Orwell’s book, “1984.” It seems that I had finally found the whereabouts of the Ministry of Truth after all of these years.

In Chairman Brown’s letter to the paper, it was remarkable to hear him reiterate all of the reasons that Commissioners Hearn, Frady and Horgan considered when creating the Stormwater Utility at the Commission meeting that occurred on Sept. 22, 2011. These were the three individuals that had the political courage to do the right thing and “not to kick the can down the road,” to use the words of Commissioner McCarty recently.

If one looks at the minutes for that meeting, they will find that Commissioners Brown and McCarty voted in opposition to the motion.

In reviewing those minutes, one also needs to read the comments from now Commissioner Ognio where he is quoted as saying, “If the Board of Commissioners approves the stormwater tax, it was clear that the commissioners do not care about the citizens of Fayette County.”

Now that these Ministers of Truth have a majority on the Board of Commissioners, one has to ask what is the reason for Chairman Brown’s letter to the newspaper and the three stormwater “dog and pony” town hall meetings that are being held.

With Commissioners Brown, McCarty and Ognio already on record as being against the Stormwater Utility tax, why don’t they simply vote to rescind the previous board’s decision to create the stormwater utility and send the taxpayers their money back?

But even more of a concern to me as a taxpayer of Fayette County and the potential impact on the services that I receive were the comments that Chairman Brown had about a “budget crackdown.”

Again, when Commissioners Hearn, Frady and Horgan were in office, they and their professional staff had thoroughly researched the question of what was a fair and equitable distribution of the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) with the cities.

The old commission had even gone the extra mile to hire an outside consultant with expertise in this field to assist in determining what was fair given all of the criteria that needed to be considered under the applicable state statutes.

Based on that in-depth analysis and review of existing case law, the issue had been turned over to the court system to determine whose position was most fair.

Immediately after the new commissioners were sworn in, they and their new “smoke and mirrors” county administrator chose to negotiate with the cities before the case could be heard. As a result of that decision, the new board decided to give the cities more than $14.5 million of tax monies that the previous board and staff believed belongs to the county taxpayers.

At the Board of Commissioners meeting on March 14, I was in attendance and requested that the board and county administrator provide all of the financial information that they used in rendering their decision to ignore the in-house research and consultant report that had been prepared at taxpayer expense.

But more importantly in terms of transparency, I asked that they put all of this information on their website so that all of the taxpayers can see the data and reach their own conclusions about the board’s secret negotiations.

Given that he receives about three times the tax benefits from the new distribution formula than the unincorporated-county resident does, I can certainly see why the former mayor of Peachtree City chose to not let the courts decide what was fair.

At the commission meeting on May 10, 2012, now-Commissioner David Barlow expressed his concerns “on the lack of accountability and transparency in Fayette County government.”

Since there has been no public discussion of this matter and only a secret vote taken, one would think that Commissioner Barlow would seize this opportunity to be transparent and be accountable for his actions that have a long-term impact on the financial condition of the county.

And to quote from Commissioner McCarty from the meeting on May 10, 2012 concerning a different issue with long-term financial impacts, “We need to have it enlightened so that the bottom line on the last day is clear.”

One of the other things that I would like to address with the Ministers of Truth is the purposely misleading scare tactics used by chairman concerning “deficit budgeting.”

Using Newspeak as his primary language now, the chairman would have everyone believe that Fayette County is like the federal government that simply spends money that it does not have.

In the past — contrary to what you are being told — the Board of Commissioners has been very judicious in their use of taxpayers’ monies and its budgeting practices. As a result, the county had on hand at June 30, 2012 financial resources in the General Fund equal to about $34.4 million.

With the final expenditure budget for the General Fund for the 2012 fiscal year totaling $47.2 million, that level of fund balance means that there is adequate monies to pay for about nine months of operations if no other revenues were received.

All of this information that I am providing can be easily verified by looking at the audited financial statements that are available on the county’s website.

When the chairman refers to the evils of “deficit budgeting,” he really means that the previous board decided that it was in their opinion in the best interest of the taxpayers who were having financial difficulties because of the economy to use a portion of that fund balance to offset the cost of the services that needed to be provided.

The board was simply using monies collected in previous years when economic times were good to help offset the impact on our taxpayers when times got tough for them.

One would think that the average citizen would appreciate a board that works towards sustainability of their services and has their best interests at heart.

On the other hand, there are those whose only purpose in life is to misrepresent the facts for their own political purposes and grandstanding.

If one looks at the minutes of the meeting for May 10, 2012, you will see that Commissioner Brown made the motion and Commissioner McCarty seconded it to spend $200,000 from fund balance for asphalt and tack for the Road Department. In their best Newspeak terms, it would be great if these two Commissioners could explain why that is not evil “deficit budgeting.”

Given the real facts about the financial status of our county and the actions of the new board, I would strongly suggest that Sheriff Babb, Ms. Studdard, Mr. Wingo and the other constitutional officers that have been elected by the citizens to provide critical services tell the “we at the county” that they want the same budget opportunities for their offices that the board has seen fit to grant themselves.

And given the obscene salary and benefits wasted to hire a “smoke and mirrors” county administrator and a nonpublic vote to give the cities $14.5 million, it is really hard to tell someone that puts their life on the line or dutifully provides critical services for the citizens on a daily basis that they need to take a furlough day because Commissioners Brown and McCarty didn’t see it in their best political interests to adjust the millage rate last year to compensate for a declining tax digest.

As a taxpayer and voter, I would expect you to send Mr. Rapson a budget that contained what was needed to run your office in an efficient manner.

When it is all said and done, it was Commissioners Brown and McCarty that chose not to adjust the millage rate last year and to deceive the taxpayers into thinking that they could simply pay less for the services that they received. Now, the chairman and this board wants the employees and the citizens to pay for their political hay.

In closing there is still one thing that remains a puzzle to me, I can’t figure out for the life of me how George Orwell knew Steve Brown. When reading Chairman Brown’s “Newspeak” messages in the paper in the future, everyone needs to remember the third slogan of the party, “Ignorance is strength.”

Lee Hearn

Former Fayette County Commissioner

Brooks, Ga.

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