Columbia County tax referendum to be on November ballot

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

August 8, 2006

Columbia County commissioners were back at it Tuesday for the second day in a row, trying to find the funds for county projects.

Columbia County is over $40 million short. They planned to unite under one government and get the funding through city fees, but that fell through early this year.

Now, a list of about 50 projects is on hold.

$16 million is needed for improvements to roads like William Few, Evans to Locks, and Hereford Farm. Public Safety needs over $4 million for projects like new fire stations and equipment. Recreation needs over $8 million for park improvements. And Storm Water needs almost $12 million.

Commissioners are hoping to make up the $40 million in a property tax increase. They decided Tuesday that the list of 42 projects will appear on the ballot in November.

Not every commissioner and elected official agrees with every project. But the decision was all or nothing. The commission had to either pass all 42 or put the entire list on hold.

This morning, commissioners decided the best thing for the county is to give voters the chance to decide.

"As you would like to see, the commission came together and said 'I don't like this or I don't like that.' But this entire program of 42 projects is the best thing we can do for the county," says commission chairman Ron Cross.

The November ballot will have four categories: water, transportation, recreation, and safety. A yes vote for each is a yes vote for all the projects in the category.

That's what caused some problems.

Bowen Pond was a source of disagreement among commissioners. It's on private property, so it's not accessible to the entire county. But improvements are going to cost around $1 million.

The issue is that certain projects like that only benefit small portions of the community. But Commissioner Tommy Mercer and the others with reservations decided there's a lot on the list the county really needs.

"We've got a lot of projects on there that touch the lives of just about everyone in the unincorporated part of the county and the two municipalities," Mercer says.

One of those municipalities is the city of Harlem.

"I'm glad it's going to a vote, and the voters can at least have their say over whether or not they want to approve this," says Harlem mayor Scott Dean.

Mercer says the projects need funding sooner rather than later. He says delaying it any more means the list gets even longer.

"If it doesn't pass, the projects aren't going away," he says. "We're going to have to fund them some kind of way."

"Nobody wants to increase their taxes--that's me included," Cross says. "But there are certain things in the county that need to be done, and we hope this program has something for everyone."

Now the power is in the hands of voters.

The list took commissioners about a year to finalize. They have until Friday to get this decision in to the secretary of state's office in Atlanta.

If you want to see a complete list of projects, click here.


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