Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tough Times

The Fayette County Commission has frozen somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 jobs this year. I just received a notice from Gwinnett that they've initiated a hiring freeze and expect to save roughly $45 million in a 12 month period. We know Atlanta is having problems, seemingly much of it due to their defined benefit program compounded by the current economic difficulties. The state is in trouble for the first time in quite some time. Not too long ago they had a surplus they were arguing about. Now they're in the hole.

Listening to the Georgia Gang on Sunday morning I heard that Georgia is considering revoking some sort of housing tax or valuation. I was half listening while I made breakfast so didn't get specifics, but the end result will be higher taxes if enacted. Some counties have already sent out their property tax notices so they'd have to send out a second bill. Big IF involved in this one I would imagine as there would be some politicians in trouble with their constituents if they voted yes. Hopefully it is something that needs a vote rather than the stroke of a pen change from a Governor who's a short-timer! (Although generally incumbents do try to make sure their Party is able to win when they leave office).

One thing I heard mentioned was a cut back in school funds to the counties. Again. If I didn't get my numbers mixed up (they were talking about cuts in a number of areas), two-percent was the figure tossed out.

If the state holds back 2 percent, guess who has to make up the difference? You and I. Go watch the videos I took of the School Board discussing the need for a SPLOST and the cuts they've already received in state funding.

I have a number of thoughts on all of the above (of course ;-)

First, how can you cut positions without cutting services? For instance, Fayette has 700 or so employees. Quite a few of those are in law enforcement, fire and emergency. I don't know which positions were frozen but certainly we either have a decrease in services or we really didn't need the positions in the first place.

Sure, there are other possibilities. Lots of people are putting in extra hours, so there's an increase in overtime pay. Not exactly a good trade-off. Can't think of any others off the top of my head that don't equate to "we didn't need the jobs in the first place" or decreases in service.

Another thought I had is that the government doesn't usually give back what it takes away. I'm not talking about the jobs here, I'm sure those will all come back once times are better (whether they should or shouldn't). I'm talking about increases in taxes, decreases in monies distributed to counties.

Here's the deal on the money the state gives to counties ---- it's our money to begin with. They take our tax money then they dole it out to the various counties. One of the reasons all these cities are breaking away from the counties (Dunwoody, etc.) is they feel their taxes are subsidising the rest of their county.

Can you imagine what would happen if Fayette County decided to break away from the state? That was just a wild thought that popped into my head, not something I'm advocating. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about the current trend of cities breaking away from counties. I can see both sides of that issue.

Back to the local situation, which is usually my focus. The county cut all those jobs, not sure what the total dollar savings will be or has been. But at the same time they handed out raises to all the employees. Now the raises that were handed out this year are just part one of a three year group of raises. Next year there will be more employees getting raises and more the following year. They said this year the lower paid employees got a raise. Who gets it next year? They said it was the majority who were lower paid this year, what about the other percent? What about next year?

I don't want to get started on the defined benefits and what that's going to cost us...

How can they justify cutting jobs while increasing pay? If we weren't handing out the raises would some of those jobs be safe? Seems to me that giving someone a job sure helps the economy (unless it's a job that isn't needed in the first place, not advocating jobs as charity).

If you listen to forums, debates, political commercials and read their releases, you know politicians can justify anything if they're good at double-speak. They can twist things to make it sound like they are giving raises to take care of you . I know that somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% of the county employees don't live in Fayette County. Don't know that it has any bearing on the discussion, it's just another one of those things that popped into my head as I was typing.

Hard to keep up with my nimble mind sometimes, isn't it?

Logical jumps inside my mind don't necessarily translate to logical jumps in writings or discussions... I've caused more than one person to say "huh?" in my lifetime .

So back to tough times. I know everyone is scrambling, trying to make up for short falls in revenues. What I'm not seeing is a cut back in spending. It seems that laying off people like they did and will do again in Atlanta stresses those who have to take up the slack, causes a higher unemployment rate and contributes to the overall problems in the long run.

I'm not great on REAL solutions. Every time I look at something as a potential way to tackle what's going on in the country right now I see the the negative ramifications of the 'solution'. It's easy to say "cut back on spending" until you start to realize the consequences of doing so. Cut funding to a project and those people are out of a job, too. The people who supply the goods for the project lose an account. They lay off people.

We could cut back on spending in recreation, but what do the kids do? We have an increasing rate of juvenile delinquency already. Cut back on the arts? Here in Fayette County we don't spend much if anything on the arts other than in the school systems. We need the arts (I'll save the rationale for another blog, this one is waaaaayyyy toooo long already).

The federal government takes care of one part of the housing problem causing another. We get a check from the government, which came from OUR taxes, but the money has to be put back one way or another.

Easy for me to sit here and say the government should do this or that. Much harder in reality. I don't envy anyone trying to tackle the issues on the federal, state or local levels. I'm glad my job is just to sit out here and blog, although I sure would love a tax cut, more money in my pocket, more advertisers on the Fayette Front Page and Georgia Front Page, to sell more of my pottery, to win the lottery...

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