Com­mis­sion­ers hear a Hoosen

The Covington News - - Opinion - BAR­BARA MOR­GAN COLUM­NIST Bar­bara Mor­gan is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent with a back­ground in news­pa­per jour­nal­ism, state gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics.

You’ve got to give it to Bill Hoosen. He’s a bold, well­spo­ken re­tiree and New­ton County res­i­dent who’s un­afraid to stand up to the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers when he thinks they’re about to vote into law a bud­get that he be­lieves will harm the county.

He did just that Tues­day, chal­leng­ing the board on their think­ing that cut­ting ser­vices and em­ploy­ees by not chang­ing the tax rate is the best way to man­age our way out of the re­ces­sion. He’s got an al­ter­na­tive.

Bill, mar­ried to Teri Hoosen, di­rec­tor of New­ton County An­i­mal Con­trol, moved to New­ton County in 1988 to start the lo­cal YMCA. He re­tired two years ago from a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a fundraiser for Metropoli­tan Atlanta YMCA.

The Hoosens fell in love with the New­ton County they dis­cov­ered back in 1988, a “car­ing com­mu­nity,” Bill re­calls.

While work­ing to get our lo­cal Y un­der­way, Bill got to know County Chair Roy Varner and con­sid­ered him a friend and “a real ser­vant leader.”

“He thought it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment to help peo­ple,” Bill ob­served. “I was amazed at the way he pulled peo­ple to­gether to get things done.”

He’s quick to cite New­ton County’s pos­i­tive and pro­gres­sive his­tory with the em- pha­sis on “his­tory”: things like the FFA camp, Varner Reser­voir, im­proved re­cre­ation, the first county school trans­porta­tion pro­gram and an an­i­mal con­trol depart­ment, among oth­ers.

“Not much has been ac­com­plished lately, but we’ve got a lot to be proud of in our past,” he said.

He won­ders now if the cur­rent board of com­mis­sion­ers has a plan for mov­ing the county for­ward when the mantra seems to be “cut, cut, and cut.”

“One or two of the com­mis­sion­ers seem to un­der­stand the need for plan­ning and progress and eq­ui­table tax­a­tion, while one or two are mo­ti­vated by a per­sonal agenda or look­ing to­ward fu­ture po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions,” said Hoosen. “Pol­i­tics in this county is ob­scur­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ing, as it is na­tion­ally. The com­mis­sion­ers seem to have lost the will­ing­ness to lis­ten to other sides. Why would they even want to serve on the board if their view seems to be that gov­ern­ment is bad and needs to be cut back un­til it barely sur­vives? It’s like prun­ing a tree. Cut it back too much and the tree is at risk.”

Hoosen notes that un­til this past year, the county has not ad­justed its mill­age rate for a decade, and “it should float ev­ery year based on the county bud­get and the to­tal tax di­gest.”

“If the tax di­gest is grow­ing, the mill­age rate should prob­a­bly be go­ing down, and if the tax di­gest is shrink­ing, the mill­age rate should prob­a­bly be go­ing up.”

“The re­al­ity of this,” he con­tin­ued, “is that my prop­erty taxes were 21 per­cent less in 2010 than in 2009.” The mill rate in­crease pro­posed by the Chair and re­jected by the ma­jor­ity of the board, he noted, would raise his cur­rent taxes but only to the level of taxes paid in 2009. The mill­age rate, he con­tends, was de­signed to float based on the size of the county di­gest and the cost of pro­vid­ing ser­vices that res­i­dents need and want. “It should be pure math­e­mat­ics and out­side the po­lit­i­cal arena.”

Hoosen de­cried the board’s re­jec­tion of “user” fees that were pro­posed by sev­eral de­part­ments dur­ing the bud­get process. “Isn’t it the goal of ev­ery tax re­form move­ment, to have those that use the ser­vices pay for the ser­vices? How much time have you (com­mis­sion­ers) spent with the county depart­ment heads to gain an un­der­stand­ing of the ser­vice they pro­vide, how they strug­gle to pro­vide the ser­vice ex­pected of them on a down­ward spi­ral of cuts, how they main­tain morale when their staff con­tinue to won­der when the next shoe will drop.

“If you (com­mis­sion­ers) blindly refuse to float the mill­age rate as it is de­signed, if you ask depart­ment heads to spend days and weeks cre­at­ing rev­enue so­lu­tions and then turn them down be­cause some peo­ple might not like it, if you con­tinue to cut ev­ery year, you are go­ing to undo the ac­com­plish­ments of your pre­de­ces­sors. Where do you stop … or do you take New­ton County down the slip­pery slope of medi­ocrity or worse?”

It is true that the lo­cal Cham­ber of Com­merce and busi­ness com­mu­nity op­posed a mill­age ad­just­ment, as did many lo­cal res­i­dents, but oth­ers, like Bill Hoosen, hap­pen to think dif­fer­ently. “It’s our patriotic duty to pay taxes,” he main­tains. In all fair­ness, his views de­serve to be heard. It was easy to see Tues­day evening that not all the com­mis­sion­ers were pay­ing at­ten­tion.

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