Beyond SPLOST: Getting radical

Cal Beverly's picture

Local environmental activist Dennis Chase has been submitting opinion columns to The Citizen since the mid-1990s, longer than most local officials have been in politics.

So when Dennis asked me a couple of questions about the upcoming county-wide sales tax referendum, I emailed him my opinions.

Dennis asked, “In my dealing with the SPLOST issues, I was asked a question about how the county could allocate extra money from the greater county portion and distribute it to the cities. Specifically the question came in: ‘Is the Fayette County Commission buying votes from the city residents by transferring our tax dollars away from us? And, does that amount to buying votes in the cities with our tax dollars?’ I had no answer. Any ideas?”

My reply:

I think you are asking at least two (and maybe more) questions that have legal answers, political answers and (maybe) moral answers.

1. My opinion: Yes, it looks like the county is sweetening the honeypot for the cities as an extra incentive to support the tax.

2. By “us” and “our,” I assume you mean the residents of unincorporated Fayette. Can’t answer that, since the allocation formulas have always been somewhat arbitrary.

The cities have made counter-arguments in the past that the SPLOST split usually over-allocates to the unincorporated areas, since the major sales tax producing businesses are overwhelmingly located in the incorporated areas, which have to bear the brunt of the costs of services.

This answer mostly depends on whose ox is getting gored.

3. The legal issue is probably less muddy. Local governments have some wiggle room within the state rules about splits. Probably no case there.

4. Political: Mainly it’s about where the votes are. Who wins that argument?

5. Moral: Several cases could be made here, again depending upon your perspective about taxation in general and in particulars.

Here’s my moral gripe: The first letter in the acronym SPLOST stands for “Special.” It’s a “special” tax, for extraordinary purposes, in my opinion.

The historical name for the County Commission is the “Fayette County Commission of Roads and Revenues,” indicating that primary reason for the existence of the county government is to look after and be responsible for the “Roads.”

I take that to mean that the primary allocation of whatever general taxes the commission levies ought to go toward the commission’s primary reason for existence: Roads.

The governing body has lost its way (perverted its mission, if you will) if its normal taxing power is diverted away from its primary responsibility to care for the roads, including the water that runs off, over or under them.

The county uses its general fund (mainly from ad valorem taxes) to pay for many things, many of which are nice to have. But if the commission pays for other things, however nice they might be, and neglects road repair and upkeep, it fails in its fundamental (state) constitutional duty.

Whatever is left after road repair can then be allocated to other nice — even “special” — things. Maybe that’s the only legitimate reason for ever having a SPLOST — for “special” things.

For that reason alone, I abhor the notion of a “special” tax to pay for what ought to be taken care of with our ad valorem taxes.

***

I have some further thoughts since that email that I’d like readers of this column to consider.

I checked the most recent county budget for Fiscal Year 2013, approved last summer by a board that lost three of its five members by the end of calendar year 2012.

That budget (www.fayettecountyga.gov/finance/budget2013/FY%202013BudgetDocument.pdf), which expired earlier this summer, expended $84.56 million for all county services. More than half of it went to public safety, like the sheriff’s department, EMS, and the like. Big chunks also went to pay for the court system, tax commissioner, tax assessors and the like.

But I found striking how little was actually spent on anything to do with roads and stormwater issues.

Check the budget for yourself, but here’s what I gleaned with a quick overview.

The previous commission allocated about one-and-a-half percent of its total budget to actual road projects (three of them for $1.32 million).

For stormwater issues, the previous commission designated spending $450,000 on drainage improvements to four roads. That’s a half of one percent of the total budget.

For comparison’s sake, here’s what last year’s commission allocated for spending on two parks alone, McCurry and Kenwood: $3.1 million.

To sum up, last year’s commission thought more money — more than a million more — ought to go to sprucing up parks than attending to roads, their primary constitutional duty.

I suspect commissions of prior years — maybe the last 20 or 30 years — have also found other missions more compelling than their primary one of maintaining the roads of Fayette County.

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown complains that today’s commission is simply trying to cope with years of neglect by floating a “special” tax to fix our roads and drainage problems.

He is right, as far as he goes.

What he doesn’t say is whether the current commission will improve on past commissions by shucking off the nice-to-have and ponying up a much larger percentage of the county budget to fulfilling its primary constitutional mission.

I tend to take a more radical view, radical in the original Latin sense of getting at the root of something.

I say use the general fund to pay for roads and public safety, the commission’s fundamental constitutional duty. If anybody wants anything else, including spiffy parks, float a “special” tax to pay for those special things.

[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993.]

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Council Meeting, SPLOST and Numbers

I see references to needing $1.5 million a year and other "facts" that are not facts at all.

Click HERE for detailed spreadsheets and other materials on the reality of our situation.

Peachtree City Mayor
donhaddix.com

Larry.Sussberg
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Haddix: Council Meeting

Spinning the facts on a political website

Your "click here" is not to the minutes of the council meeting but to "Don Haddix For Mayor" website aka your viewpoint. Just more misleading information. Clearly you will try any trick to get re-elected!

Peachtree City needs a leader, and you are just not it. You had your 4 years to try and it didn't work.

Ultimately, U.S. and PTC citizens see through the politicians who do and say whatever is politically expedient to get votes while actually accomplishing little.

For 4 years you have point fingers at others. Whatever you accomplished with the Fred and Tennis Center which Mayor Logsdon initiated is appreciated but were just pennies in comparision to financial crisis that was looming that council took action on without your involvement and support.

You did nothing at that time because you knew you might not get re-elected so you decided to vote no to the tax increases for political purposes.

Had you really opposed the tax increases of 4 years ago for the right reason you would have proposed an alternative budget cutting services, reducing payrolls, etc.

Now you are using you lack of courage and action in an effort to appear you opposed taxes calling everyone TAX AND SPEND.

If you want to criticize, or declare NO, offer clear and factual alternatives not more committees to draw plans. You have had years to pull these committees together and guide the budget. You have had years to achieve consensus of leadership to lead council in the right direction with an alternative but you had nothig to offer them. Not even individual phones calls to discuss. The lone ranger on the attack with no suggestions or alternative plans to offer.

PTC is now showing a few good signs of revival and now we need a mayor who can take this fragile movement and lead us forward as a vital community where people want to live and raise their families.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Spinning

The materials on the link were all presented at the meeting. In fact, Staff will be using my spreadsheet.

The materials contain facts like the life span of asphalt, Conditions Ratings, deterioration rate per year, projects funded by the proposed SPLOST, etc. It also outlined my Plan.

Peachtree City Mayor
donhaddix.com

Larry.Sussberg
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Haddix & A Plan

Too late!

You had 4 years as mayor plus 2 as council member = 6 years in city government.
Sorry but you squandered your opportunity.

Time for a change and time for leadership.

fayettehuntman
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Special funds indeed!

Mr. Beverly, in line with some of your comments (many of which I agree with) why does no one seem to question why Tony Parrot spent some $900,000 dollars on a park at the new Lake McIntosh when he evidently did not have enough money to fix numerous problems with his equipment at both water plants!

I have heard that he just wanted to get his name on another plaque!

Maybe that is why the former commissioners voted to let him spend that money also? Their names are also now on that plaque?

But, to Steve Brown's credit, I think he was the only commissioner to question that spending and if my memory serves me correctly, he wanted to delay the spending because money was so tight in the county!

Was a new (un-needed) park more important than repairs to our water system? It was to some folks indeed!

Somebody needs to be asking questions and getting some answers that make sense!

What is coming next? Does anybody know?

Y oh Y
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Mr Jolly - Recreation

You mention the Kedron pool and other non essential recreational items.

Which parts of the recreation budget do you consider "Essential" and "nonessential"

Jolly for PTC Mayor
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Essential & Nonessentials

Essentials:
Basic public functions such as public safety (police/fire/ambulance), Public works (maintenance of roads/paths), and other essential city functions.

While recreation is great it cannot be the primary focus of a city. If a city can cover its legal obligations and has extra tax dollars, lets build up recreation. But to place recreation before basic infrastructure is not responsible.

You wouldn't install a playground in the backyard if your roof is falling apart.

Our city government does not want to make the hard choices because of their "political careers"

Lets get our city to post simple itemized lists of tax dollars coming in and tax dollar expenditures.

Yes I am aware that they post a budget for all to see, but lets make it a little simpler for everyone to see in real terms where is it all going, before we go and ask the public to give us extra.

If we don't stop this continued action of local governments continuing to ask for higher sales tax to cover poor budget/planning, then they will never learn.

Vote for the best city leadership in November.

johenry
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Not again

Mr. Jolly,

You and Mayor Haddix need to go sit in the corners. These people attack each other like school age children.

Tell us where you'll cut the $1.5 million from recreation that the city needs to pave roads and cart paths. I'm sorry Mr. Jolly but you just keep speaking in platitudes. You don't have any real answers.

Y oh Y
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Jolly What is the essential PTC?

"While recreation is great it cannot be the primary focus of a city. If a city can cover its legal obligations and has extra tax dollars, lets build up recreation. But to place recreation before basic infrastructure is not responsible."

While we all celebrate our recent listing on the best places to live list, I note that it was not the best places with infrastructure. I agree we need to pay for all we have, but are you saying you would gut our various recreational assets including the gathering place and other luxuries to pay for roads? Afterall, aren't golf cart paths themselves a luxury?

What is your vision of PTC?

Spyglass
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Thank goodness it will not matter.

What Jolly thinks is essential, that is.

But it is comical see him and Hizzoner spar over things.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: My Take on Funding

A SPLOST is a tax imposed by the County on the cities. Let us be upfront and honest here, on this one, there never was any contact with me by the Chairman for discussion before the SPLOST was announced.

The SPLOST is a tax proposal for the County, not PTC. It came out of County Meetings, no joint meetings. The law says we have to be included, like it or not.

A HOST tax would be County only. But the voters would never approve one.

PTC needs a long term answer. The SPLOST isn't it.

The SPLOST will be discussed at tomorrow's Council Meeting. A lot of material will be presented.

Jolly for PTC Mayor
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Don't be fooled

PTC is all on board for the SPLOST. From our Mayor to all City Council members.

Let our elected leaders answer the following question:

Why hasn't PTC budgeted for road and cart maintenance?

Why since the last SPLOST hasn't this been a normal budgeted item?

Why do we budget for the Kedron Pool and other non essential recreation items before infrastructure? Why not make Kedron pool self sufficient? (charge fees that cover normal day to day operations and repairs)

Don't be surprised that this local election will not only have a larger turn out, but a sound defeat of the SPOLST.

Don't forget to vote for the best leadership for our city in November.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Mr. Jolly

I agree, do not be fooled... by you!

They have not been in the General Budget because the Council majorities have not wanted roads and paths as part of the Budget.

Just like they took parts of the cost of Stormwater out of the General Budget, put it into the Stormwater Fee, over doubled it and then bragged about how they have kept the Budget under control when they have not.

You claimed before you have contacted us and asked questions we refused to answer. Fact is you have never contacted me nor have I ever seen you at a Council Workshop or Council Meeting.

I have pushed for a Comprehensive Strategic Plan for 6 years now. The Council majorities do not want to listen to the citizens. They want to keep the status quo on services when the One PTC and Needs Survey said we need change.

We need to look at more public/private, like I proposed and got passed for the Tennis Center (really wanted to sell it, but the majority said no). We need to get out of areas where we are competing with the commercial sector.

We need our Development Authority back. I got it off the shelf in 2008, it was doing great things, then the majority dissolved it in 2011.

As for me supporting the SPLOST, where have you been? I have Letters to the Editor in opposition, have stated on the Dais I oppose it, etc.

As well, I have voted against more taxes etc. We HAVE to get a Plan in place, get our priorities correct, reduce spending and then see where we stand.

Do you understand it takes a 3 vote to pass anything? With all you have said YOU will personally do, I do not believe you do.

Vanessa Fleisch, Kim Learnard and Eric Imker have voted for every increase presented. George Dienhart has voted for all but one. I have not. Harold Logsdon thinks building more retail and home will save us fiscally.

I have an actual Plan backed by accomplishments that have saved the City over a million a year. The City Manager agrees on the Plan.

What we need are Councilmembers who are fiscally conservative and understand business. At the moment, there is only one business person on Council, me.

That should answer a lot of your questions and claims.

Jolly for PTC Mayor
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Your own actions

Sir,

Your own actions have created much of the mess with our city. Many residents will show up just to vote you out.

You don't have my respect with your own actions and words.

Most in our city want you to take a whole page in the paper (at your expense) and apologize for the lies you have disseminated.

Your own actions cost our city $12,000+. Why haven't you taken the time to pay us (citizens) back?

When you are able to correct yourself, then many may want to have a discussion with you. Until then you are not a elected official to be trusted.

Ryan Jolly
PTC Citizen/Local Business Man/Candidate for Mayor

Larry.Sussberg
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Mr Jolly

You may lack some facts on how the city operates, but you sure make up for it by telling the truth about Don Haddix.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Really?

Mr. Jolly,

That was a total evasion of my response to you questions and false statements.

When one cannot answer, try to invent an issue and throw mud.

Fact is you were called on making false statements and now want to divert to another issue.

I only responded because you made all those inaccurate statements.

Bye.

Peachtree City Mayor
donhaddix.com

Spyglass
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Dear voters

Just choose wisely or you get officials who like to argue on the innerwebs.

Neither deserve a vote.

mudcat
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Silly little nancy boys arguing about nothing

No need to vote for either one of these silly people. We need a mayor who is dignified and looks good in a suit greeting new business owners to Peachtree City with a hot looking wife on his arm - no, my hubby is not going to run, so don't get excited.

We don't need a mayor who thinks the best use of his time is blogging on here and thinks that is a good thing. Dopey little fools. Vote for a grownup.

Fleisch is the way to go for the next Mayor.

PTC Observer
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Mudcat - Mayor

How can Ms. Fleisch have a hot looking wife on her arm? ;-)

mudcat
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Fair question PTCO

I suppose "spouse" or "hunk" would be a better choice of words.
Vote Vanessa in.

Busy Bee
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My thoughts exactly!

And to think they both think they are enhancing their chances in the election by engaging in this little spat.

Steve Brown
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No complaint from me

I have to agree with the theme of the column.

On the "balanced budget" issue. A lot of people are reading many things into the definition of balanced budget. Our expenditures are now meeting our revenue projections and that is a good thing, but do not take that to mean that all of our problems are solved (cause that ain't so).

We have millions of dollars of unfunded stormwater problems. We also millions we will have to spend on the Water System (more coming on that) and we are woefully behind on fund the vehicle and equipment replacement cycle. Not to mention that we did away with two dozen positions to balance the budget and are riding on a skeleton crew in several critical areas.

At the end of my term, I hope we have these significant problems tracking in the right direction or eliminated altogether. The current Board of Commissioners has taken the prudent financial measures to begin the process and are hoping to resolve the most dire problems if the voters allow us to do so (Core Infrastructure SPLOST, etc.).

On giving more money to the cities, the Board of Commissioners promises to only fund stormwater projects and we took only that. If we began adding other projects of a different nature, we would have been accused of lying and rightly so.

The cities desperately need the financial help anyway. The "new" view of the county is that if the cities succeed, the county succeeds.

PTC Observer
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"Special Tax" - Mr. Beverly

Insightful column, using your definition of "special tax" there would never be another SPLOST passed by the citizens of this county. That's because using your definition, there wouldn't be enough votes to buy.

So, I totally agree with your analysis. The question is will the politicians agree and stop putting up SPLOST's for us to vote down? Given the ever increasing crime rate in Fayette County, I would support a "special tax" to bolster everyone's safety. A SPLOST to improve law enforcement, courts and jails would send a signal to those that would "do business" in this county. While the county spends a large portion of the budget on public safety, I believe we must respond to the realities we see each week in The Citizen and spend even more on public safety. Crime will destroy our county faster than all other concerns, including roads. People just generally move away from crime, once that starts you can kiss the life we have here goodbye.

Where's the county leadership on this? What say you Mr. Brown?

stranger than f...
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Interesting. Is there really an "ever increasing crime rate?"

PTCO and elected officials on this blog,

I am unaware that the crime rate in Fayette County is increasing. Do you have any details or statistics that demonstrate this? I would be very interested if our per capita crime rate has gone up, when it increased, and to what extent. I know that the national crime statistics demonstrate a successive decrease in crime over the last 20 years. It would be surprising if a law-abiding district like our county was bucking the national trend.

If indeed the crime rate is rising, why were there cuts to Sheriff Babb's budget this year?

PTC Observer
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STF - Crime Trends

I have read The Citizen since the first year,1996, that I move here and the trends are compelling. I don't need to wait for some government statistician to eventually catch up with what I see with my own eyes.

Either you believe that things are as good as they can get or you don't. I believe that they can be much better than they are and I am willing to be taxed to make them better.

How about you?

RKS
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Crime Increase/Decrease
PTC Observer wrote:

I have read The Citizen since the first year,1996, that I move here and the trends are compelling. I don't need to wait for some government statistician to eventually catch up with what I see with my own eyes.

Either you believe that things are as good as they can get or you don't. I believe that they can be much better than they are and I am willing to be taxed to make them better.

How about you?

I really don't believe stats that say crime has decreased. I used to be able to leave my doors unlocked at home and in my car. I used to be able to shop in Fayetteville without having to look over my shoulder because we rarely had issues like we have now, so you can stick your head in the sand and believe what you want Citizens of this county, but I know that I can no longer live the life I once lived in this town.

Davids mom
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Reading The Citizen
Quote:

STF - Crime Trends
I have read The Citizen since the first year,1996, that I move here and the trends are compelling. I don't need to wait for some government statistician to eventually catch up with what I see with my own eyes.

I was guided to read this paper when we moved here in 2003 to get the feeling of a community that was having difficulty dealing with change. I have seen the paper become more balanced but stil representative of an ultra-conservative Republican community. With my eyes and the photo stories, I have witnessed a role model of the new south emerge.. The Fayette Women is one of the outstanding publications in the country. I get a weekly report of the crime within 5 miles of my residence. Definite decrease thanks to the city and county law enforcement and their investigators (detectives). Just sharing another view.

stranger than f...
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The only crime trend is a decrease in crime

There is no trend here in Fayette County or in the USA at large suggesting that crime is increasing. You may choose your recall of news articles or intuition over the FBI crime data; however, rational people will choose facts over fantasy.

Your hypothesis that things can get better only by increasing taxes is debatable (and highly unpopular on this tea party infested blog). I’ll let you argue with the right-wingers about that one. The reality is that the County Commission cut Sheriff Babb’s budget this year. I will wait on the data to see if that was a wise move or not.

I’m not criticizing all of your ideas, merely that you repeat a fallacy about criminal activity that can be empirically validated. Don’t feel bad, Thomas Sowell made the same false claim in the Citizen a few weeks ago.

S. Lindsey
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It is called DNT-Do not tally...

When Local Governments want to show a decrease in crime for political gain they issue
a DNT order to the Police.

A DNT order tells the LEO that if there is no "Real" evidence of a crime...OR... the Perpetrator is unlikely to be located (lack of witness cooperation etc)...OR...the Crime is unlikely to be prosecuted by the victim then a DNT is noted on the I/O Report and the incident will not be counted in the "Official" numbers to the FBI.

I could not count how many reports I have done with a DNT noted... Want to see a drop in crime stats viola there you go.

stranger than f...
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So local law enforcement is under-reporting crime?

Mr. Lindsay, Do you have any evidence that Fayette County law enforcement is under-reporting crime here in our county? It would seem counter-intuitive for the police or sheriff's office to do this as it would make them more vulnerable to budget cuts. Do you know of any reason why our local law enforcement agencies would lie to us?

skyspy
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You are Correct S. Lindsey

In some high crime areas....like perhaps the city of Atlanta if a crime happens against a homeless person, a drug addict or dealer or a prostitute it may not count....especially if you are trying to look like a safe city compared to Detroit or Chicago.....hypothetically cops might be under some pressure to ignore crimes that involve people that are ummm......undesirable . This is all "hypothetical" of course....

PTC Observer
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STF - Crime

Don't fret over my feelings, your critical nature is appreciated. As you are well aware there are lies and then there are statistics. I hope you are right and I am wrong. Time will tell but I for one see the changes in this county when it comes to crime, even if you don't.

Wait for your government "proof", if you dare. It's your community too.

There's one thing for sure, people move away from crime leaving it to the criminals. The percentages will change when that happens.

Dr. Sowell, is a genius and I don't believe you are at all qualified to make the judgement of a false claim.

stranger than f...
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Crime Statistics from the Fayette Sheriff's Office

Follow this link to the crime statistics from the Fayette County Sheriff's Dept.

http://www.fayettesheriff.org/Crime_Statistics.php

It is interesting to see how flat the yearly changes actually are and that Fayette County's crime rate is vastly lower than all of the surrounding counties listed. I appreciate the fine job our local law enforcement organizations are doing for us.

SilverStar
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stf - crime stats

Note that the statistics presented are for "unincorporated Fayette County." As such, they do not include many of the crimes reported in The Citizen - carjackings and robberies at the Pavilion (Fayetteville), carjackings at the Peachtree City Wal-Mart, etc.

If you really want a barometer of Fayette crime trends, perhaps you should ask some of our local LEOs who've been around for awhile. The "good" news - and I'll (grudgingly) give DM some credit for pointing this out - is that most of the serious crimes committed in Fayette County are perpetrated by low-lifes from Clayton and Fulton. We should work vigorously to spread the word that crime does not pay down here!

stranger than f...
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It's no surprise why crime rates have fallen.

The truth lies in demographics. Most violent crimes are perpetrated by males from 18 – 25 years old. In the mid-1960s the baby boomers began to attain this age and crime rose. When the population of this cohort finally declined in the early 1990s (along with about 1,000,000 unwanted children aborted each year since Roe in 1973) the crime rate declined with them.

The steady decrease in violent crime (as a percentage of the population) for the last 20 years has been a very welcome relief. However, the 24 hour news cycle and ubiquitous video make it seem that crime is increasing despite the FBI statistics.

These crime statistics are easily attainable from the FBI uniform crime reporting data. You and I are equally qualified to read the data reports from year to year.

Also PTCO, you're a brave person to advocate a tax increase in this conservative county. If the data supports it, I will support your initiative.

PTC Observer
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STF & DM

Keep reading the paper, you draw your conclusions and I'll draw mine.

Judge things by what you see around you, not by what some government statistician reports. Crime can be a very personal experience if you are living in a community where it is seen more often, frequency and intensity within a local communitynis important.

If you or your neighbor are a victim of crime you begin to think about options, guns, protection or flight. Most people choose flight as the best option. I hope you are both right, but my perception is that things are getting worse, not better.

Are there places in our community that are becoming less safe based on your perception? If the answer is yes, then things are not getting better. The last thing we want to do is to become complacent or live in denial, or we will lose the community that we love.

Davids mom
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PTCO

I certainly agree with this (personal perception). I frequent the Pavillion in the daytime - and have really noticed how there are more customers since the additional police presence . If my personal perception was different regarding the safety of my home, my personal safety, or the safety of my shopping areas, I would first see if there was anything my neighbors and I could do to alleviate the problem. My last resort would be to leave. (Too much invested in property and friendships)

PTC Observer
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Exactly my point DM

If you perceive that things are safer due to more police patrolling then they will be perceived as unsafe by criminals.

Thus, my support for a SPLOST for law enforcement. We want a community that is perceived as safe and evidence for the criminals that they will be prosecuted if they break the law in our community. It will be the criminals that will move out and not us. This is the whole point, it's us or them and the future of our community.

So, I ask again where's the leadership on this? What say you Mr. Brown?

stranger than f...
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The perception of criminal activity

PTCO - I believe that you have identified an important concept in understanding why people become scared or move from communities. If I only read the Citizen and this blog, I would perceive that criminal activity was increasing exponentially in Fayette County. We can certainly blame news organizations for their dictum: "If it bleeds, it leads." However, we also must look at how frightened we all are of change and the pessimism that often accompanies environmental modification.

I agree with you that perception trumps reality for many people and certainly can guide their decisions about safety, housing, etc. Education and exposure to change (without the accompanying predicted negative results)seem to be potent remedies for inaccurate perceptions. However, many eschew reality for their fictions. You have made a good point.

Spyglass
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I am also willing to pay more

Stay strong Fayette.

Husband and Fat...
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Right you are, Cal

This splost is not special.

Failure of past commissions to budget is only compounded by the current commissions failure to address with their current self proclaimed balanced budget.

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