During last year’s campaign between Commissioner Winters and myself I raised the issue of past tax increases by Commissioner Winters and pointed out the reckless spending practices of Commissioner Winters. I also pointed out the importance of restoring retirement benefits to county workers.
Now, less that nine months later, Commissioner Winters is saying he must increase taxes by nearly 30% to cover his expenditures and have money to operate the county. The commissioner is still blaming the sheriff and jail expenses for the county’s financial woes, but he has done absolutely nothing to put forth an alternative plan for the problem of housing inmates outside the county and is content to continue to spend three-quarters of a million dollars each year to house inmates in neighboring counties.
Just days before the election, Commissioner Winters put notices in county workers checks that he would work to restore retirement benefits this year. While it is commendable that the commissioner is finally seeing the importance of retaining county workers and providing benefits, it is sad that he can only fulfill that promise by raising taxes instead of finding cuts to the current budget. He also says that now he believes that it may be time to man the remote garbage facilities in the county; another topic we raised last year.
The election is past, and the people of this county spoke overwhelmingly in favor of allowing Commissioner Winters to have a third term. If I have any regrets about the campaign last year, it is not that I lost, but that I didn’t do more to let the people of this county know how much trouble our county is in financially.
While a new jail could be built with a bond referendum and without a tax increase, and county employees’ benefits could be restored without a tax increase, Commissioner Winters did an excellent job of making people believe that the Democratic candidate would raise their taxes – when in fact he planned all along to raise taxes this year, just as he did after winning re-election in 2012.
I had identified over a quarter of a million dollars that could be eliminated from the county budget immediately, which would have more than covered retirement benefits and given some breathing room to the county budget.
The truth of the matter is, anyone elected commissioner would have been faced with the prospect of having to raise taxes because of the reckless spending over the past eight years, but no one would have suspected a 30% tax increase.
The fact is that Commissioner Winters is operating the county like Bebe Heiskell did Walker County – call yourself a conservative, then spend and borrow all you can.
Chattooga County deserves better. I may have been the wrong candidate at the wrong time, but the message was clear – this county needs a financial overhaul and borrowing more money and raising taxes is not the answer. Controlling spending and cutting costs would go a long way to remedy the trouble our county is in.
Many people have said over the years that having a sole commissioner is the best form of government because the people only have to vote one man out of office. Sadly, we still have at least three more years of irresponsibility to contend with. Perhaps it is time to consider a board of commissioners and convince our local senators and representative to move forward in the state legislature.
Most importantly, the people of Chattooga County need to remember August of 2017 when they go to the polls in three years – regardless of who is running for commissioner. And by all means, make sure you are registered to vote and be sure to vote every time the polls are open.