Where has all the money gone?

A citizen asked me this question at Monday’s city council meeting.  At first I was confused by the question, but then I understood.  On no day of the year are people more aware of the taxes they pay than on April 15th.   At the same time, there is less and less money available for every individual’s favorite project.
While my first 100 days as Mayor have made me more keenly aware of this dilemma in the city, it is really true of every government in our lives.  County Commissions, States, and the United States government all have more needs than tax revenue.  That is true in Donalsonville and I suspect it is the case in most of the cities in Southwest Georgia.
I have always believed that most of the public doesn’t mind paying taxes as long as they feel the money is being spent wisely and that their leaders are being good stewards.   Part of the problem we have is that many have no idea at how much of the operating expense is beyond the control of the Mayor and City Council.
Our new $6 Million Water Treatment plant was mandated by the state.   However, it is you and I that must pay for it.  While it was necessary for this plant to be built to adequately treat our wastewater, no one gets too excited about the increased rates.
The state used to provide a fairly significant amount of money to the cities and the counties for local roads.  The LARP program, Local Area Road Program, is no longer funded by the state.   The tax dollars sent to the city of Donalsonville for local road maintenance pale in comparison to our actual needs.   
At the current funding rate, it will take 75 years to repave all of the streets in our city.  That doesn’t matter to the citizen who has a big pothole in front of their driveway.  That is the most important pothole in the city to them, and rightly so.   They want it fixed now and we are trying to do just that.
The city’s fire station has asbestos and mold issues.  Not a surprising fact, given the time frame it which it was built.  While a new station has been on the city’s wish list for many years, it will have to be put to the front burner in some fashion.   While everyone wants the best firemen possible when they have a fire, most don’t really think about the condition of the fire station.   
The city is aggressively pursuing grants to assist with infrastructure improvements, but the money is much tighter than in years past.   With additional unfunded mandates passed by the state and federal governments, the squeeze between revenue and expenses will continue to get greater.
The size of the tax pie is about the same as it has been, but many more slices are needed than just a few years ago.   Many of those needs are for things that people don’t think about on a daily basis.  Just because it is out of sight doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take tax dollars to fund and operate.  
What is the answer?  Growth.  Jobs.  A stable and growing tax base.  Better reasons for people to want to live here.   It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy either.  If you think your elected officials are in fact leading the way, then be prepared to support them as they face difficult decisions down the road.
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Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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