By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
“Delay this until the economy turns around,” was the theme of one person after another regarding the new Fire and Solid Waste Assessments proposed for the next five years.
The Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing in the courtroom upstairs in the Madison County Courthouse to discuss the proposed new assessments for solid waste disposal and fire protection and consider comments from the public. Jerome Wyche, Director of the Solid Waste Program, said that the money the department received from the assessments had paid for many improvements to the waste collection and recycling system and enabled the department to apply for matching funds from the State. He also reminded everyone of the roadside dumps and other eyesores of years past. Marianne Green spoke in favor of the new assessments, also recalling the less than desirable waste disposal methods of the past, and said that the quality of service the county provided for the money was very good. George Blevins, Fire Chief of the Sirmans Volunteer Fire Department, spoke to the gathering about $4000-$5000 it took to outfit one firefighter according to state mandates and commended the volunteer fire departments that served and protected their local communities. The fire departments also had been able to secure grants and other matching funds because of the assessments, enabling them to purchase fire fighting trucks and other equipment. However, without the assessments, “we’ve basically got a $200,000 truck, but we can’t afford the diesel to take it to the fire.”
Of those gathered in the audience, however, the sentiment was one of overwhelming opposition to the new, higher rates. Many asked repeatedly that the Commission delay raising the assessments until the economy improved.
Citing the dismal economy, several also questioned why the Commission was choosing to update the assessments now. Commission Chair Renetta Parrish explained that in order to continue the assessments at all, they were required to review and update every five years.
Howard Pickels told the Board that he agreed with taxes as “a necessary evil…we all have to pay our fair share, but I disagree with the misuse of taxes.” Adding that Madison County was almost shut down as the result of the poor economy, he added, to a round of applause, “Until you five can create jobs in this county so people can pay taxes, leave taxes the way they are.”
Frank Rykard spoke of the need to keep spending in line with available funding. “If all I have is $100, I can’t go out and buy $125 worth of services.”
Cynthia Bonello spoke of people who were unable to attend the meeting because they were shut-ins or otherwise in dire circumstances, and therefore had no voice. “This is a Christian country and a Christian county,” she said. “If this could be pushed back until the economy turns around…I hope you will listen with your ears as well as with your hearts.”
At the end of the Commissioners discussed the matter briefly and agreed that there wasn’t a pressing enough need to raise the current assessments. They voted 5/0 in favor of keeping the fire protection and solid waste disposal assessment “as is” for the next five years.
Commission Chair Parrish then adjourned the meeting.