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 OPINION PAGE - NOVEMBER 24, 1999 - DANIELSVILLE, GA

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
November 24, 1999

From the Editor's Desk
BOC should act on pay plan
Face it. The Madison County commissioners are in a real fix on how to solve the county's pay dilemma.
Here's one suggestion:
·adopt the pay plan currently on the table.
·hire an outside firm to make a recommendation on a pay system, possibly revising the current plan.
·announce now that property owners will see a slight increase in taxes next year to fund raises for county employees.
This is not a perfect plan. There are problems with each suggestion, but it may prove the fairest and most beneficial course of action in the long run.
The first move would begin to bring the paychecks of underpaid workers up to par. The second action would add an objective voice to an emotional issue - a dilemma that brings out the territorial side in county leaders. The third move would create more funds to keep good workers in the county.
If you're unfamiliar with the current pay situation, here's a brief synopsis:
In years past, some county workers received raises, while others doing the same work missed out on the pay boosts. When those higher paid employees left, new people came in with the same pay. That meant some people with more time under their belt made less than new employees with the same duties.
Seems criminal, right?
Well, the county commissioners seem to think so. And they've worked this year to develop a pay system that rights that wrong, prevents future injustices and brings county pay in line with what other counties pay.
Earlier this year, the commissioners toyed with the idea of hiring an outside firm to conduct a pay study to determine who should be paid what. They abandoned that plan, maintaining that department heads and not outsiders know the worth of their employees. The commissioners agreed to do the study in-house, not throwing $20,000 down the drain to some firm who doesn't know a single soul in Madison County. Those big shots can give their questionnaires to some other county, commissioners reasoned.
Their decision was sensisble. But there's a big hitch there too. It's the mother-cub syndrome. Those who run county departments want to stick up for their employees, making sure they get the best pay possible. That's natural, but when those leaders got together to develop a pay system fair to all, it was a mess. Everyone wanted to take care of their own.
So the commissioners scrapped the original plan, saying the department heads' pay recommendations were unreasonably high.
Now the commissioners have another proposal, which would freeze the pay of some, while increasing the salaries of others who are deemed underpaid. The proposed pay system was set by averaging salaries in Georgia counties with a similar population to Madison County.
A number of county employees showed up last week to say "Heck no!" to that plan.
Who wouldn't be mad, hearing that your co-workers are going to get raises and you won't for several years to come?
You can't fault the employees with better salaries for the county's poor management of pay in the past. So why should they be punished for the county's mistakes? If this pay plan is passed, what's to keep them from packing it up and looking for new employment?
Still, commissioners should bite the bullet and go ahead with the plan. The most immediate objective should be leveling the playing field and raising the pay of those who have been done wrong in the past. But the board shouldn't stop with this.
If fairness is the goal, why not hire someone with no strings attached to any person or group in the county to come in and review the new county system. If you went to court, you wouldn't expect anybody but the judge to be objective. Perhaps the commissioners can fill that role. But aren't there raises for commissioners' employees that have been called in to question? Hiring a firm will eliminate even the appearance of favoritism. And $20,000 may be a small price for this.
Ultimately, the best answer may be the toughest politically. Raising taxes will never win friends. The current administration has held to promises of keeping taxes steady.
But the obvious lack of fairness coupled with low pay has led to poor employee morale. In turn, there's been an outflow of workers from the county. This translates into more training time, more inefficient hours logged on county clocks, more of an unseen expense to county taxpayers.
The county school system has raised property taxes to handle its facility needs. Shouldn't the county government do the same to take control of its personnel problems?
Do you as a taxpayer prefer lower taxes or poorer services?
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
November 24, 1999

Frankly Speaking
State should give us back our money
The latest news reports say that the State of Georgia has a $700 million surplus in the bank. That is $700 million dollars of our money collected by the state tax system that the government did not need. Now, politicians in Atlanta are arguing over how to spend the money.
I have a suggestion: GIVE IT BACK! State government has very little income that is not taken from the pockets of taxpayers. It is obvious to me that if the state took more money than it needs, it should refund the difference.
This happens almost every year. And each year the state legislature finds ways to spend the surplus. They call it a supplemental budget. The first thing that happens when the legislature convenes in January is a new budget to divide up the extra money. After they finish finding pork barrel projects to use up this money, they get to work on the budget for the next year.
I would like to see our legislators do the responsible thing. Include the $700 million in the budget figures for the next year, determine the extra revenue needed to operate the state, then reduce taxes so that only the funds needed are collected.
Having urged that the surplus be used to reduce taxes, which tax should be cut? I support a move to reduce, and eventually eliminate the state income tax. Action by Georgia and other states to reduce or eliminate this abusive tax would make it easier for our national leaders to end the federal income and payroll taxes and do away with the IRS.
The slogan for this movement is Make April 15th just another day. We, the Georgia and U.S. taxpayers would be able to ignore all the pressures and punishments of the present tax system. No longer would we have to fill out long and intrusive tax forms in order to get a little of our money back. No longer would we worry about being audited by the IRS. Can you think of a better use of this surplus than to free our taxayers form this annual punishment?
The South fought and lost a bloody war in an effort to keep political power at the local level. Today, state and federal governments exerciseexcessive power over our lives using money they take from our pockets.That is the result of the Northern victory in the War Between the States. But while we lost the war, the battle continues.
Because money is power, the way to keep political power in the local communities is to limit the taxing power of state and federal governments. The less we pay in state and federal taxes, the greater our ability to finance local solutions to social needs. Let's urge our state legislators to start this process by returning the $700 million surplus to us, so we can decide at the local level what we need and how much to spend.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal.


Letter
The Madison County Journal
November 24, 1999

Remember farmers during Thanksgiving

Dear editor:
Thanksgiving is a special time to reflect on the bounty that we enjoy and this year is no exception. As Americans, we enjoy an abundant and safe food supply made available by farmers and ranchers, processors, brokers, transporters, wholesalers and retailers. Although the overall economy has been strong, the agricultural economy has been depressed and many producers are facing serious hardships.
National Farm-City Week, Nov. 19-25, is designated to emphasize the successful partnership between rural and urban residents that make our food and fiber system the envy of the world. The ongoing theme for the week is "Partners in Progress."
Thanks to the efficiency of this partnership, we in America enjoy the world's safest, most bountiful, most diverse and least expensive food supply. We spend less than 11 percent of our income on food, where other countries spend much more: France, 15.2 percent; Japan, 17.8 percent; Israel, 21 percent; Mexico, 33.2 percent; and India, 51.4 percent. It takes us just 40 days to earn enough income to purchase our food supply for the entire year, while we work 129 days to pay our taxes.
We are partners - farmers, ranchers, factory workers, truck drivers, marketers, cashiers, supermarket managers and consumers. The farm-city connection accounts for more than 22 million jobs in the food and fiber industry. In order to continue to have a viable food system, we need allo of our partners to be strong.
As we enjoy our Thanksgiving feast this year, we need to be especially mindful that the families producing the food may be struggling. Although it may not provide relief to those families, I at least want to express my sincere gratitude for the job they do year after year. And that goes for all the other partners throughout the food and fiber chain. National Farm-City Week provides all Americans with the perfect opportunity to say "Thank you."

Sincerely,
Terry Chandler
President of the Madison County Farm Bureau


Editorial
The Banks County News
November 17, 1999



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