That’s sort of like Cave Spring in Floyd County, population 1,200, waking up one morning to find out the Atlanta Falcons are putting their new proposed stadium there.
Great prospects and great changes do not mean the large existing headaches most communities have go away. How Emerson recently reacted to this hard truth is worth noting because Greater Rome and most other communities with great prospects or aspirations are currently in pretty much the same leaky financial boat.
All of them know that they have to take action, almost certainly involving increasing revenues, unless willing to accept a continued slow deterioration of public services, infrastructure and lifestyle with attending darkening prospects for their community’s future improving. Most of them have not been doing much.
That’s not meant as an endorsement of the Emerson City Council’s selected method (property taxes) but rather its approach. It didn’t sit around wringing its hands and moaning, it didn’t avoid picking a path that might have adverse political consequences, it didn’t wait and pray some larger government with deeper pockets might ride to its rescue, it didn’t punt the problem to the electorate with some tax or bond referendum and hope voters had enough vision to catch the thing.
It bit the bullet. It decided to do what it could do on its own by the authority already vested in it.
EMERSON JUST put in a 2-mill municipal property tax whereas before, just like Cave Spring, it had none. Its main income, also like Cave Spring, was an insufficient share of the local penny sales tax divvied up mainly on the basis of population (in Emerson’s case, it gets 1.97 percent of the Bartow County take).
None of this had to do with the emerging LakePoint sports facility/community, which is paying for all of its own stuff although down the road Emerson will “own” all the streets, water lines and so forth … and have to pay to maintain them. By then, the project’s 10-year property-tax forgiveness (a very common county perk to land any prospect) will be over, throngs will pay sales taxes at stores, restaurants, etc. with Emerson getting its slice that may grow as it adds residents with all the resort housing planned, and there will actually be hotel/motels to pour room taxes into the city treasury.
But that’s then … and this is now. And the future apparently had nothing to do with this move. Indeed, Emerson backed off from going to 3.6 mills with the rest earmarked for starting to beef up its police force. Actually, that would have been wise even with the estimated 2,000 permanent jobs at LakePoint not there yet, nor the tens of thousands of weekly guests/spectators.
EMERSON’S long-range situation was certainly unique but its right-now reality is something it pretty much shares with every community. Also shared with all other local governments in this troubled economic era of diving income is the certain knowledge that no cavalry is riding to its rescue.
Whether it is in Rome or Emerson, Cave Spring or Floyd County, the right-now trouble is the same: Everybody is on their own. The state isn’t going to help and keeps cutting deeper into bone; the federal government is whacking away at revenues/grants it once shared with local governments; and the electorate — the comparative few showing up at the polls — are defeating those few taxes over which they are given any say whatsoever. That’s particularly true in Greater Rome where, it should be noted, two straight SPLOST proposals (transportation and capital equipment investment) have now been defeated.
That’s why tiny Emerson just set a valuable example. It did what it had to do because it had to be done.
Instead of all the weeping, moaning, groaning heard amidst the wringing of hands it did what was possible, and perhaps best, for it to do.
Its course certainly wouldn’t be correct for every place. There are many options besides property taxes that involve no possible veto power by the public. Those include not only simply asking, “Is this even something local government should be doing?”, but privatization of certain functions, applying fees and permits and assessments not now existing (on pets, bicycles, street/sidewalk maintenance/improvement just to mention a few) and so forth.
INDEED, THERE are many, many smaller additions/improvements to any revenue or expenditure stream that can be made. Few realize or know how comparatively few of such revenue enhancements are used in these parts compared to how inventive some other local governments around the nation have gotten. That’s not meant to imply all could be applied here; it is only to say that both more — and less — by way of community government/school services and income streams should be discussed as, frankly, perhaps about all that is now left on the table in the current economic and political climate.
The only point being made is that, as Emerson did, it is certainly time that local governments — city, county and even school systems — started looking far more seriously and deeply into such options and possibilities.
Sitting around waiting for “the economy to turn around” or some larger entity to ride to the rescue serves no purpose except to permit things to slowly continue to get worse.
There are no magic wands when it comes to preserving a viable hometown community. All “great potential” is a mirage until it can, as in Emerson, be touched. Depending on prayer is valuable only insofar as it reflects faith in the future … not an expectation that miracles will be granted.
It used to be that having a government, of any size, do what was necessary to keep a community from falling apart or decaying was considered the norm and not some sort of stunning exception.
IT’S TIME to get back to that state of affairs. Greater Rome’s several governments might do well to consider starting discussions, both within as well as among themselves, and in the floating of “trial balloons” for the citizens to snipe at, on what is possible and plausible even if not delightful.
And then proceed to do it, even if it requires ramming some decisions down a few screaming throats.