Don McKee: Commissioner Goreham swimming against current on tax hike idea
by Don McKee
Columnist
March 30, 2011 12:00 AM | 1641 views | 11 11 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
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Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham is swimming against the current in calling for a "balanced approach," possibly including a property tax increase, to plug the county's gaping budget hole.

To her credit, Goreham is willing to take the political risk of putting the tax hike in play as she and her fellow commissioners grapple with a $31 million budget deficit. Along with floating a millage rate increase, Goreham told the Journal "no options are off the table," and she believes "there are going to be furlough days, salary reductions and cuts in services."

Part of the problem, Goreham says, is Cobb's enviably low 9.6 millage rate, one of the biggest selling points for the county. "Since 1992, we've consistently cut the millage rate from 12.2 to 9.6 because we had revenues coming in and a huge, healthy tax base." But she says tax cuts were overdone. "We set an artificially low millage rate, one that I believe is too low for a county of this size." She pointed to comparable-sized Gwinnett County with its rate of just over 13 mills.

The alternative to raising the property tax is supposed to be cutting the fat and tightening the belt.

Goreham says the commissioners "have responded aggressively" to community demand for austerity measures. She cites a hiring freeze in place since FY 2007 along with an early retirement incentive program; reduction of the operating budget by $19.6 million in 2009 and by $13.4 million in 2010. In that period, 171 full-time county jobs were cut. They were significant steps.

But they have been insufficient in the face of the continuing economic decline. In addition, the county continues to experience "greater than expected declines in the property tax forecasts," Goreham said. The county's property tax digest has plunged nearly 11 percent since 2007 and expects an additional drop of six percent in the 2011 digest.

The issue comes down to "how to pay for the services our citizens require versus which services should we reduce or eliminate," Goreham wrote in a letter to the editor. "Every option is being considered."

County employees have to be increasingly nervous not only about jobs, but benefits. Goreham pointed out that health care costs have been rising by 10 percent a year, and "mandated accounting practices require" county payments into retirement funds "at levels that are financially challenging."

Goreham said the commission needs to address those issues now "along with other possible actions such as employee furloughs, use of reserves, sale of assets and an increase in millage rates, even if only temporarily."

Raising taxes is a very long shot at best and Commissioner Goreham's proposal for even a temporary hike in the millage rate appears to be dead on arrival at the board of commissioners with no visible support for the idea.

A tax increase of any kind seems highly unlikely in the present climate when there's growing concern about a double-dip recession. That dog will have a lot of trouble hunting in Cobb.

Comments
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fed up employee
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March 31, 2011
NtheNo...I generally agree that waste needs to be reduced and we should be very selective in where the county sends it's money...and yes it will be painful, but I don't belive it's fair that the already overworked and underpaid county employess should bear the brunt of the pain...we ALL need to share the pain...Furloughs are not the answer...it is a cowardly way to approach the problem...
frogbreath
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March 31, 2011
Don,

The dog will not hunt---unfortunately.And I agree that ir USUALLY is not a good idea to raise taxes in a (re), (de), pression.

Helen Goreham, nonetheless is correct. Her balanced approach to reduce or eliminate services with a painful, but hopefully, small tax increase is necessary.Lord knows, I detest taxes,but I also detest doing other things in life. Sometimes they are life saving efforts.

I am on retirement income. I see no opportunity for increases in the future. I hardly will enjoy paying more taxes. There is no way for me to replace savings that I spend.

Helen Goreham's balanced approach is the best I have seen so far.

Let us hope her dog rises on all fours and joins the hunt so capture our goals.
lechat
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March 31, 2011
NtheNo: While I agree with you that the county should trim unnecessary services (let's see the fight over what THOSE are!), the idea that one $90 expense will trigger a wave of foreclosures is just absurd. And as has been explained already, while the splost may have been handled badly, that's not really part of THIS budgetary issue.

Again, explain to me why, if we ALL share in whatever services there are, only the county employees who provide them should be the ones having to pay extra to make up the funding shortfall. Are they the only ones with jobs? Are they not paying more for gas and groceries just like the rest of us? My guess is that it has something to do with politicians who'd rather play to the crowds than do the right thing.
Cobb Taxpayer
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March 30, 2011
Commissioner Goreham need to understand that it is obviously clear that Cobb has more government than we can afford, desire or require ! Her quotes about millage rate and Cobb's size is simply lacking in fundamental basics of reality.

171 jobs or positions that were mostly vacant ?

Commissioner Goreham might not be swimming, but drowning ?
NtheNo
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March 30, 2011
In this environment everything but essential services must justify its existence. If it isn't reasonably necessary - out of the budget.

The people of Cobb are faced with 10% employment rate, rising fuel costs, rising food prices, record foreclosures, etc. Many remain out of work and on the solvency bubble where even a marginal property tax increase will force another wave of foreclosures.

The tax hand was played with SPLOST - the political chips are gone. Reduction in services is the new fiscal reality until this economic cycle passes.

Unfortunately its going to be painful.
lechat
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March 30, 2011
So according to all the commissioners but Goreham, all county residents can share the services provided (at whatever level), but only county employees should have to shell out any actual money to keep things going. What cowards. If they go this route, they'll lose whatever trust the employees ever had in them. I imagine they've already lost all respect.
anonymous
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March 30, 2011
Are you kidding me????

a simple rule of economics: You can not tax yourself out of a recession (ever)
Fed up employee
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March 30, 2011
God Bless Helen Goreham...she is the only voice of reason on the Commission. The others, including Mr. Hankkerson are only concerned with maintaining their positions. Everything should be on the table...the County is in the hole, they are it out on already over worked and under paid employees...and they want to spend 170,000 on a study of a light rail system ...really!!!
FROM TEXAS
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March 30, 2011
It’s too bad they didn’t look at the budget before passing the 2011 SPLOST Goreham is just saying what should have been looked at before lying to everybody. Just remember thanks to Bo0b Ott and Thea Powell we have a 2011 SPLOST how do you live that down. Had they planned the budget as Sam FiveO would have he would have moved money around and passed a two year SPLOST an looked like a hero not a Jethor.
westcobb
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March 30, 2011
Commissioner Goreham is a very smart person who weighs the many options available and comes to conclusions based on what is best for the County. not what is best for herself.

Bravo Commissioner!
Set aside politics
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March 30, 2011
I applaud Goreham for worrying more about the citizens and employees of Cobb County than her own political career. She seems to be the only Commissioner with the fortitude to do what is right. I wish she was representing my district.

Bob Ott obviously has his eye set on the Chairman seat and is unwilling to make rational decisions. Based on Birrell's town hall meeting, she doesn't seem to realize the problems the county is facing. She spent the majority of time introducing people.
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