Columbia Co. Commission divided on tax increase referendum

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

August 7, 2006

Columbia County needs over $40 million for county projects like road improvements and emergency services.

You may get to vote this November to decide whether or not the county gets the money.

News 12's Stephanie Baker is on your side with what this means for you and your property taxes.

Columbia County commissioners will decide tomorrow whether the $40 million bond will appear on the ballot. They originally planned to get the funding through city fees. That fell through, and now the future of over 50 projects could rest with voters.

Friday's train wreck in Grovetown worried emergency responders about the possibility of a chemical spill. Fire chief Danny Kuhlman says hundreds of hazardous materials come through Columbia County every day.

"We've got 17 miles of interstate, we've got railroads, we've got waterways...and all the chemicals are out there," he says.

But Chief Kuhlman says the department doesn't have some of the proper equipment to deal with major disasters--this is one of many projects that need funding.

A yes vote on the bond referendum means people like Cail Oliff will pay more in property taxes.

"I don't think anyone wants to pay more in taxes," Oliff says, "but I realize a lot of things are going on and the county is growing. It's necessary to have it."

But the commission and elected officials are divided on whether it should end up on the ballot this November.

"I'm very disappointed that we can't come together as a commission and as a group of elected officials to agree on a project list that everyone will support and work to have passed," says commission chairman Ron Cross.

Some commissioners don't want to put the referendum on the November ballot until all officials support all the projects. There's a list of about 50, including over $100,000 for HAZMAT equipment.

"Accidents happen all over the country every day...and being able to take care of our own would greatly benefit the county," Chief Kuhlman says.

Cail Oliff is for it: "There's a lot of things the money has to be spent on."

Things like roads, recreation, storm water, and emergency services.

Commissioners will meet again tomorrow at 11 for final approval. If they decide to move forward, Columbia County residents will get to vote yes or no on the entire list of projects. If not, the funding will get put on hold.

This issue didn't do very well in the primary election. Both the Democratic and Republican ballots showed people don't want their taxes to go up. But Chairman Cross says that's because not everyone understands how this will benefit them.

To see the full list of the proposed county improvements, click here.

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