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COLUMN: Statesboro, You Done Messed Up

The following article is an opinion piece by the author and reflects the views of only the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.


Three weeks ago, the Statesboro City Council was contemplating increasing property taxes to generate funds to increase police salaries. Three weeks ago, two weeks ago, and one week ago, the public was supportive of an inrease. But Tuesday, the council voted to increase the millage rate by a full mill, but it isn’t all for public safety – in fact, they don’t really know where it will go at all.

…And some citizens feel like the council pulled one over on them, and they kind of did.

There was no confusion over the purpose of the proposed property tax increase. I know the purpose of the proposal was for public safety. I spoke with Mayor Moore personally about the issue. Her intent was clear when she made the proposal before council at the August 15 meeting, and while “ear marks” aren’t allowed, it would be the council’s pledge to allocate the money to public safety.

But Tuesday, Councilman Sam Jones made a motion for a 50-50 split – 50 percent to police salaries and 50 percent to “do something for the citizens.” Specificially, Jones said he feels “everyone should have an opportunity to learn how to swim” and despite the presence of Splash in the ‘Boro and the forthcoming YMCA, there is no pool inside the city limits of Statesboro. Jones has said all along that he would like to see more money go to recreation, but no specifics were previously mentioned.

In full diclosure, Mayor Moore’s original proposal for discussion was a half of a mill increase for public safety and council agreed to advertise for a full millage point increase to allow wiggle room after public hearings. [If you advertise for higher, you can adopt a lower millage rate, but legally, you cannot adopt a rate higher than the one you advertised].

Councilman John Riggs was adamant that the full mill go to police salaries because of the 10 vacancies in the patrol division at the SPD right now. He said a pool or recreation faciltiies could be funded through SPLOST money, and he is right. Salaries of any kind cannot be funded by SPLOST because it isn’t considered a static or stable mechanism of funding. A pool – or a one time expense – could be.

Councilman Jeff Yawn was vocal about specifically allocating the money so citizens – and city employees – know where the money is going to go.

Councilman Phil Boyum, true to form, said it would be inappropriate to “lock in” the funds to go to police pay at all because “that’s for budget time.” But budget time just ended a few months ago and at no point during that time did I hear Councilman Boyum advocating for an increase in police salaries or a reallocation of funds or anything similar. (Jones was quiet on parks at this time, too) If Boyum’s solution is to wait until the next budget season in June 2018 to address this issue when it is already near crisis, I can only assess his stance as reckless and irresponsible. The Statesboro Police Department has lost over 120 police officers in the last 11 years. The department cannot incentivize officers to stay and it is costing the city a fortune to constantly recruit. The proverbial can cannot be kicked down the road any longer.

Boyum also said the other half mill could be used by the city manager – an unelected administrative position unaccountable to the voters of Statesboro – at his discretion.

The new millage rate, 7.308 mills, with allocating the half of a mill increase to police pay, would raise starting salaries from $32,956 to $35,500. That’s $2,544 annually.  Or $48.90 increase a week. Before taxes.

Is this really the best Statesboro could do? Apparently, so. [Click here to read about the salary increases from a .75 mills or 1.0 mills]

Ultimately, the council voted 4-0 to raise the millage rate increase a full mill without any dedication to police or parks.  Councilman Travis Chance was not present for the vote, nor was he present for any of the hearings.

So what’s the problem? The people who showed up in favor of the millage rate increase were in favor of a full mill increase for the purpose of police pay. Property owners and business owners alike stood before council advocating for the highest possible hike in order to compensate Statesboro Police Officers appropriately. Even a senior citizen on a fixed income appeared before council to advocate for the increase. People wanting parks weren’t present. People opposed to the proposed tax increase weren’t present. I wrote articles on it. Those in support far outweighed those opposed.

Statesboro is charged with protecting not only its citizens, but also the Georgia Southern students who live and spend time off-campus, and everyone else who travels to town for shops, sleeps, or sports. But the only funding the Statesboro Police Department has is from City of Statesboro property taxes. Personally, I would like to see a fee similar to a fire fee that is assessed monthly on water bills, but that was never a consideration.

I’m very disappointed that council members had a position and left it behind for the opportunity to learn how to swim and because Councilman Boyum thinks it would be inappropriate. Boyum was present at the other public hearings and during the August 15 council meeting when the increase was proposed and he made no comments about “allocating” funding. He waiting until D-day to shred it. And to Councilman Jones – the mere presence of a pool does not give someone the opportunity to learn how to swim.

People are untrusting of their governments because they feel like elected officials aren’t honest, transparent, or consistent. Citizens believe that they can voice their opinions but they fall on the deaf ears of elected officials who will ultimately do what they want. While the process was transparent, some elected officials don’t appear to be honest or consistent. And you know what they say — Perception IS reality.

The Statesboro City Council spent the last three weeks talking about police pay raises, fielding feedback from citizens and business owners, and trying to raise awareness about what a millage rate increase would do for those who protect all of us – and ultimately, they took the simple way out and didn’t even address it.

Statesboro, you done messed up.

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

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