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Commission casts votes on old issues

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By Jennifer Caldwell

 

Last week’s workshop proved to be no indicator of how the August county commission meeting would flow.

With few commissioners wishing to add items to the agenda the group plowed through its workshop agenda in record time. The same could not be said of Monday’s nearly three hour meeting.

Well discusssed arguments including how many seats the commission should have and the litigation tax created lively discussion among commissioners during the evening.

In effort to undo previous action by the commission to reduce the number of members from 15 to 10 in the 2010 election, Commissioner Scott Kitts introduced a motion to raise the membership back to 15.

As debate began, Jeff Marlow, county finance director, was called on to give an estimate of the savings that elimination of five seats would produce.

Taking into account the salary, insurance and discretionary funds provided to each commissioner, Marlow said costs would be reduced by approximately $70,000.

Commissioner Whit Goins questioned the logic of voting to overturn a decision that has the ability to produce real savings.

“I thought we were down here to save the taxpayers money, but it seems like we are getting ready to vote to spend it,” Goins stated.

After hearing the projected savings that will come from reducing the number of commissioners Kitts had a change of heart.

“For the benefit of the tax payers I want to rechange my motion and leave it at two (commissioners per district),” Kitts said.

Following Kitts’ move to take the proposal off the table Commissioner Rusty Orick made a move to keep the issue alive by making the motion himself.

Orick explained that his motive for keeping the motion on the table was to determine where the majority of commissioners stood on the issue.

“I’m bringing this up for the simple reason that if you will remember there was barely enough here to pass the motion to start with,” Orick said of the vote that decided the number of commissioners would be reduced to two per district.

While Chairman David Young agreed he had no problem with each district having three representatives he contends that there are problems with the system.

In the interest of fairness Young suggested seats in each district should be designated an area so the entire district would receive equal representation.

Commissioner Lynn Letner suggested that the group vote to return the number of commissioners per district to three until new districts are established during next year’s redistricting process.

In response to Letner’s remarks Commissioner Adrion Baird took his opportunity to weigh in.

“As usual Mr. Letner’s comments are irrelevant. What we’re dealing with is equal representation,” Baird said. “Saving money is what got my attention. By saving this money we’ve got an option to do something else.”

When votes were cast Orick’s motion was narrowly defeated in a 7-8 vote. 

Commissioner Bobby White remained persistent in his attempts to sway colleagues to vote in favor of a $25 increase to the county’s litigation tax.

Despite failing to receive support in two previous votes White remained steadfast in his belief that the money generated from the increase is necessary for the county’s future.

“This money will enable the commission to borrow money when you have to build a new jail,” White said telling the group that it was only a matter of time before they would be ordered by a judge to expand the current jail facility. “We are going to build a jail. It’s just when the judge tells us to start breaking ground.”

According to White, with affirmation from Marlow, the money generated from the increased litigation tax will allow the county to borrow the additional $1 million needed to fund the proposed $8 million jail expansion.

While some commissioners voiced skepticism concerning the increase, White argued that the increased litigation tax, which is essentially a user fee for those who must utilize the justice system, would impact only a specific portion of the county’s population.

White continued by stating that the increase would protect the general public from a two cent property tax increase which would be necessary to raise the same amount of money.

Letner voiced opposition to the increase calling it a “punishment tax.”

“If we’d built the jail the way we were supposed to in the first place we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Letner said looking in Baird’s direction.

“Lynn that is water under the bridge,” White said.

With only six votes in favor of the increase White’s motion failed.

“Folks you will be paying for this and it will be through a property tax increase,” White said after the results of the vote were announced.