To the Editor:
I’ve had several citiznes ask me why I voted against this or that. It’s time to clear the air and let you folks know all the other stuff that goes on.
First off, I do try to get along with my fellow commissioners so long as I feel it’s good for the taxpayers! I have tried three years in a row to lower our property tax rate. Two years in a row I voted for the budgets. Our budgets are loaded with numbers and details which are sometimes tricky to get a handle on. However, in this year’s budget here’s just a few of the items I had problems with.
1) I saw in our budget one department getting more than a $200,000 raise for their budget over and above what we already gave them throughout the year. That same department then got thousands of dollars in pay raises while most county employees only got a 2 percent raise.
2) The Southwestern Commission is a group who supports land-use regulations. I don’t. They get thousands of your tax dollars in this budget. I simply could not support that.
3) Same goes for a lobbying group in Raleigh that just recently found out where Macon County was. They get thousands of dollars of your tax money in the budget. What does Macon County get out of that?
4) There was $150,000 in the budget to buy the land (1.5 acres) in Highlands for a soccer field. I asked how much it was going to cost total to complete project but never got an answer. I also asked what will it cost to take care of that underground spring? Again, I was ignored and never got the answers so I didn’t vote for it.
5) I was led to believe the Parker Meadows Ballpark would cost the county around $1 million to complete. I was in favor of that and voted for it. On the day we were scheduled for a due diligence vote, all of a sudden the figure ballooned to upwards of a potential $4.9 million. I could not see spending that much taxpayer money in this economy. Not to mention I think we overpaid for the land.
6) Although this school budget problem wasn’t caused by the commissioners, we were the ones thrown under the bus for their past management. It resulted in Macon County taxpayers paying over a million dollars more in the budget. Don’t get me wrong, I have always stood for education and teachers in our county.
7) That budget also had way over $100,000 to fund the old Cowee School.
A couple weeks ago I read another uninformed person’s letter to the editor saying we needed to keep the county pay scale up to minimum pay like other nearby counties. Actually, I would support targeted pay raises that would accomplish just that; but, sorry friend, that was not the problem.
That pay study was not compared to our nearby counties. It was compared to three counties near the coast. One case in point; Watauga County up near Virginia, which has 239 employees and 69,000 citizens, compared to Macon County that has about 418 employees and 35,000 citizens more or less. Do the math. Watauga has twice the population and half the employees. This is no comparison. Another was Transylvania County near Asheville. Asheville is urban, which again, is not a good comparison. None of these comparisons even included the fringe benefits Macon County pays, which were higher than all the others. I also asked for a comparison to Cherokee, Swain, Jackson, Clay, Rabun and Graham counties but never got it probably because that wouldn’t fit the plan either.
We are going to be confronted with a $300,000 or more proposal to widen the Macon County Airport runway. I voted last year for $230,000 as part of a grant to repave it. I was told about all the money this airport makes annually. If it makes all this money, why are we asked every year to fund $200,000 or more?
These are only a few of the reasons I vote the way I do. I am not running down my fellow commissioners for how they vote. However, I didn’t pledge to the citizens to follow a big spending plan. I said I would be conservative and that is how I have voted.
I know some don’t worry about the taxpayer. They just want us commissioners to spend. Sorry, I am not going back on my word. It’s hard sometimes to be a true conservative who looks out for the taxpayers’ money with an economy in the ditch and when everyone else seems to be looking for ways to spend it. I wish more folks would attend meetings and get the facts before speaking. If you can’t make the meetings then at least watch them on video at www.thunderpigblog.blogspot.com/. That way you can at least see and hear most of what happens. I hope this helps you all see just a few of the things that go on that you don’t always read about in the newspapers.
Commissioner Ron Haven