On a grand piano, one can find the pedals at the bottom. Usually, the one at the far left is known as the soft pedal. It is called this because when pressed with the foot, hammers, which normally strike all three strings of a note strike only two of them. This softens the note. In light of a recent 3-2 vote to adopt a budget and raise tax millage to 9.5487 mills from last year’s 9.39 mills, it appears that county officials are pressing the soft pedal.
One way that they are diminishing the harsh notes and soft-pedaling their new tax tune is by saying that the taxes are set at the “rollback rate.” The rollback rate allows the county to generate the same amount of money that they did last year; however, it does not guarantee that there will not be an increase on anyone’s taxes. For instance, if a person’s property maintains the same value as it did in the past, the taxes would go up with the new millage rate. If the property has increased in value, the tax bill will increase even if the millage had remained the same.
The commissioners who voted in favor of the increased millage hike are Roy Ellis, Justin Hamrick and Wayne Vickers. Voting against the millage hike were Alfred Martin and Renetta Parrish.
Our hats are off to Martin and Parrish who voted for the taxpayers (including businessmen and businesswomen and farmers) of Madison County. We applaud them. On the other hand, we are obligated to chastise Ellis, Hamrick and Vickers.
In today’s economy, when everyone is cutting back, this newspaper feels that the county can do its part also. Part of the belt-tightening should begin with the county commissioners’ salaries. While the salaries are mandated by the state, based on population, the state cannot force the board to take the salaries. One former county commissioner, Roy Smith, owner of Madison Marble Works, refused a salary during his first term in office. What is there to prevent the commissioners from giving back 10 percent of their salaries to the county? They are currently making much more for a part-time job than many who are scrimping and scraping are from full-time jobs.
Another thing to consider is that in some counties, the commissioners’ jobs are full-time. They have offices at the county building and maintain normal business hours. In Madison County, they do not do this. Alfred Martin serves as fire chief for the City of Madison; Justin Hamrick is employed by the Department of Agriculture; Wayne Vickers works in maintenance at North Florida Community College; Renetta Parrish is a businessperson, who owns a daycare and a taxi service; and Roy Ellis is retired from the Florida Power Corporation.
Perhaps constitutional officers (such as the property appraiser, etc.) could also reduce their salaries, giving 10 percent back to the taxpayer. This would put tens of thousands of dollars back into the county coffers.
Another area to look at is in job reduction. Are there any employees who will be retiring soon? Is it an absolute necessity that they be replaced or can their jobs be eliminated from the budget? Are there any jobs that can be handle by one supervisor instead of two supervisors?
One suggestion is to put the Solid Waste program under the supervision of the Public Works Department. This would save over $50,000 a year.
Marianne Green points out one example of waste in a letter to the editor in this newspaper. She notes that the solid waste collection sites are being paved from gas tax money, which could have been used for county debt reduction or for paving county roads. Why put a ribbon on a pig to make it look nice? It will just go back and wallow in the mud and get dirty again.
Major landowners, such as timber farmers, row croppers, dairy farmers and ranchers who require major acreage (hundreds and thousands of acres) to do their jobs are feeling the brunt of the heavy tax burden more heavily than others who do not have to pay as much in taxes. Why penalize someone for owning more land when more land is a necessity? The last delinquent tax rolls shows one of these very businesses paying over $50,000 in tax. With a worldwide recession, these three commissioners chose to push the “knife” in deeper and, once in, to twist it.
While nursing at the breast of government and drinking its milk until it is dry, all public officials need to look at the true source of their income. Their incomes come from taxpayers who are already burdened beyond belief and the real taxpayers are tired of supporting unnecessary spending.