Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 5, 2015

5
Feb

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 5, 2015

State Rep. Allen Powell (R-Hartwell) has two pieces of legislation that are pretty interesting. House Bill 224 preserves existing taxicab regulation systems such as exist in the City of Atlanta, while prohibiting new municipal or county regulations on cabs. It also defines “Ride share network service,” like Uber or Lyft. It’s a long and complex bill and I’ll write more about it after I’ve digested it.

House Bill 192, also by Allen Powell, would prohibit elected officials from using “P-cards,” essentially debit cards on the government dime. This is great legislation as P-cards have been a source of trouble at all levels of government, providing a too-easy way of abusing tax dollars.

The Superintendent of the Butt County School System has published an editorial about what he says will be the deleterious effects of the Transportation Bill on their school system.

While the state of Georgia is claiming its proposal doesn’t raise taxes (at the state level at least), it will take away almost $2.0 million in revenue from our school system alone. And millions more from the Butts County Commission, City of Jackson, City of Jenkinsburg, and City of Flovilla, and of course, you.

As most taxpayers in Butts County know, our fuel stop industry at Exit 201 is one of the primary ways we collect revenue (via E-SPLOST) to pay for classrooms, computers, buses, equipment, textbooks, athletic facilities, etc. It is the fairest tax of them all, and the great thing is, over 50% of this revenue comes from people who do not live in Butts County. If HB 170 passes, our school system will lose $2.0 million a year that would have stayed in Butts County.

In other words, instead of keeping those pennies in our community, Atlanta is taking them from us…if we let them by remaining silent.

We are hearing rumors that the House Leadership, led by Speaker Ralston, is insisting that House Bill 170 “will pass” whether local taxpayers and moms and dads want it or not and regardless of whether they fully understand its implications or not. Is this how democratic government is supposed to work?

You will hear them talk about the state’s need to repair roads and bridges (valid needs, we agree). You will hear them express with pride that their proposal is not raising taxes. You will hear a lot of words about fair competition, economic development, and modernizing our funding systems.

But you won’t hear much about schools losing a big chunk of their funding for children’s needs. You won’t hear that counties and cities will be left scrambling, looking for ways to either raise revenue by raising property taxes or being forced to decide to delay projects that local folks back home need just as desperately. You won’t hear much of that at all.

The Butts County Administrator joined in the fray as well.

In Butts County, 53% of all sales tax generated here comes from the sale of motor vehicle fuels. No other county in Georgia gets over 50% of their sales tax revenues from fuel sales…no one else is even close. This means that the financial impact of HB170, which would remove sales taxes on motor fuels, could remove 53% of the dollars we receive each year from LOST, SPLOST and ESPLOST. SPLOST has been used to build our entire county water system, fire stations, soccer fields, library expansions and to renovate a number of county buildings. It has paid for patrol cars, ambulances, fire engines, road maintenance equipment and the paving of dozens of roads over the past 20 years. ESPLOST has built new elementary schools, middle schools and expansions of the high school and will soon pay for a new gymnasium on the campus of Jackson High. Without these voter-approved sales taxes, none of this would have been possible.

LOST, or the 5th penny, goes directly to the county and three cities to help offset the day-to-day costs of local government and in Butts County, it takes the place of nearly 4 mils of tax. In the cities, it helps to prevent having to impose city property taxes as well.

If HB 170 is passed with the removal of fuel sales from the three local option sales tax categories, it could cost the county $1.3 million dollars per year in LOST. It could cost Jackson $530k a year, Flovilla $111k a year and Jenkinsburg $91k per year from their budgets. Costs like these cannot be absorbed by trimming budgets…costs like these can only be absorbed by cutting jobs and eliminating services.

If HB 170 is passed, SPLOST dollars, which fund new projects, would be reduced by an additional $2 million dollars per year. The ability to replace ambulances, fire engines and patrol cars would be cut in half. The ability to replace road equipment and to pave roads would be cut in half. The ability to improve our parks, libraries and fund a variety of other projects would be cut in half, in the county, cities and at the water authority.

If HB 170 is passed, ESPLOST dollars, which fund a range of enhancements to our school system would be reduced by $1.9 million dollars per year. Before ESPLOST, if a new school had to be built, it had to be paid for by bonds which in turn were paid for with property tax dollars. ESPLOST removed that burden from property tax payers and today, probably 80% of those improvements have been made by people stopping in Butts County to fill up with fuel. Our county must have good schools to succeed and good schools must have stable and secure funding sources to make up for the gaps in what the state gives them.

Politics Across Georgia

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens warns against what sounds like a variation of the Nigerian Lottery scam that apparently has been going on.

Georgia’s insurance commissioner has issued a warning urging residents to be alert for phone calls from people claiming to have life insurance proceeds available to them for a fee.

Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said Tuesday his agency’s fraud unit has determined that the calls are fraudulent and part of a scam to separate you from your hard earned money.

“My office has received complaints from consumers who were scammed out of thousands of dollars by individuals claiming to be insurance company representatives,” Hudgens said. “These low-life scammers are telling consumers that their deceased relative had life insurance that lapsed, but if an immediate payment is made to reinstate the policy, they will become the beneficiary.”

A former Chatham County Tax Commissioner employee pled guilty to stealing $20,000.

Teresa Campbell, 49, on Friday entered a guilty plea in Chatham County Superior Court under the First Offender Act to an accusation charging her with felony theft by taking of more than $5,000 between Feb. 19, 2002, and Dec. 1, 2014, “property of the Chatham County Tax Commissioner,” court documents show.

Under a negotiated plea, Campbell was sentenced to 10 years probation, 500 hours of community service and $400 in attorney’s fees to be paid for her public defender representation.

Key to the adjudication was that Campbell pay immediately $19,985.50 in restitution to avoid going to jail.

The plea was taken under the state’s First Offender Act, which means that if Campbell completes her sentence without incident there will be no adjudication of guilt on her record.

For the Birds

Earlier this week, a baby Great Horned Owl (called an Owlet) hatched in Savannah under the watching eyes of the internet.

The Berry College Eagle Cam has spied two new eggs in the Rome, Georgia nest.

The first egg was laid on January 6 and the second egg was laid on January 9. We expect to see eaglets hatch between February 10 and February 15.

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