Friday, April 23, 2010

The state of the county.

As those of us who call Camden home as well as many past visitors know very well, Camden is a great place to live in most respects. The people, the climate, the natural beauty, the productive estuarine ecosystem, the Atlantic, Cumberland Island National Seashore, the proximity to Jacksonville, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, the negligible crime rate, and I could go on and on.

However, we have suffered some serious blows and some vexing problems in this first decade of the 21st century. Of course, the loss of 900 well-paying-jobs and a multi-generational tradition when the paper mill closed was the singular most devastating blow to our local economy. There was of course no help forthcoming from the Joint Development Authority which at the time was a $250,000-a-year farce.

At about the same time, our “discovery” by the larger America as a great and relatively inexpensive place to live had just started a burgeoning avalanche of growth in the county for which we were really not at all prepared. City governments were not prepared and the county government, bereft of a competent county administrator and a truly professional staff and saddled with a less- than-stellar team of bickering commissioners was most assuredly not prepared for the tremendous onslaught of residential development that was barreling down the tracks right at us.  Witness, for instance, the unlawful water/sewer and pseudo-impact fee “negotiations” that went on for a while at the county level before the county commissioners were forced to recognize them as unlawful “exactions” and had to refund all fees collected from developers to that point.

One hates to refer to anything about the current “Great Recession” (as economists are already starting to call it) as “good,” especially insofar as many of our citizens have lost jobs and tragically, in some cases, homes and businesses, but if there is any such thing, it might be that local governments –particularly our county government – have been given some time to catch their breath and re-group so as to be better prepared to benefit from controlled and self-financing future growth when the economy heats up again – as, thankfully, it is already showing signs of doing.

Then, of course, there was the great real estate re-assessment debacle and all of the righteous kerfuffle that ensued. Hopefully , when the remaining thousand or more appeals are finally sorted out, we will come to see that the overdue county-wide assessments were, on the whole, not nearly so ridiculously unrealistic as once feared. The debacle did, however, reveal some glaring inadequacies and incompetence in the assessor’s office which appear to have been sufficiently ameliorated by some key personnel changes but will bear constant monitoring. You can bet that if elected, I will support the funding of a sufficient number of positions for in-house, professional appraisers so that we never again have to farm out that function.

Update: 6/8/10.  On June 4th, Gov. Perdue signed into law Senate Bill 346. To see why this law is good news for Georgia property tax payers and how I would use the law to get relief for District 4 taxpayers in my first year in office, please click on the following link to take a brief detour to my popular local news blog, "Camden Commentary."

Moreover, we have hired what has turned out to be an exceptionally competent and forward- thinking county administrator who, in short order, has recruited a truly competent, truly professional managerial staff and streamlined county government while simultaneously improving performance. Ironically, whereas when that development train was barreling down the track we were dangerously unprepared, now that things have cooled off considerably, we have an administrator and staff way more than adequate to the task at the current level of economic activity. However, what a great position that puts us in as the economy comes roaring back as it no-doubt will!

On the job front, I think that for apparently the first time in the history of the Camden County Joint Development Authority, we have a competent director who is actually earning his paycheck. I’ve developed a good relationship with JDA Director, David Keating. I’ve kept a pretty close eye on his activities to date. Given that his predecessor left him in the first down position of being 50 yards behind his own goal post, he has come a long way by doing just exactly what needed to be done in a methodical manner in a perfectly logical order. Don’t be surprised to see some results in the not-too-distant future. I look forward to working closely with David to bring much needed jobs to Camden.

With regards to property taxes, the very first thing we need to do to get residential ad valorem tax relief is to change the mix of rooftops. We have way too many residential rooftops and not nearly enough commercial / industrial ones. I will work diligently to improve that mix. One way is giving the JDA Director all of the support he needs, within reason. If David Keating comes before me as a commissioner and asks that we consider tax breaks to a potential large employer he is courting, I will not reject the idea out of hand on rigid ideological grounds. On the other hand, I will not give away the store either. However, if we are to be competitive in our recruiting efforts with competing communities across the country, we have got to start thinking out of the knee-jerk, obstructionist box that has gotten us no new major employers in many decades.

To the extent that more residential rooftops will also lessen the load per taxpayer for fixed costs of operating county government, so long as they pay their own way for the additional infrastructure and services occasioned by their construction via adequate impact fees, I am not anti residential development. However, I do think that our current impact fee rate structure needs to be re-examined in terms of rates and competitiveness. I suspect that we can – and should - raise the former without hurting the latter.

As to the need to build a new jail, "We can't just keep kicking the can down the road!," as my friend Sheriff Tommy Gregory so aptly describes the inaction of the county commission to date. We need to be addressing that - particularly how and when we will finance it - NOW! There is an interesting proposal from a Brunswick development group that says that can build a 350 bed jail for $18 million dollars, and build it rather quickly, on a lease-purchase plan. This offer was no doubt precipitated by the fact that a modification to the Georgia SPLOST law now allows SPLOST funds to be used to make such lease payments in a lease-purchase capital acquisition plan. Our first opportunity to so use SPLOST funds will come in 2013, the third year of my first term, as we vote to renew SPLOST. I am keeping track of this as it is still in the discussion phase. At this point, I am sure of only one thing: to continue to ignore the inevitable need for a new jail is foolhardy.

I am also impressed by some plans that were brought to the board by Cap Fendig recently. As a Glynn County commissioner, Cap had and is still having great success which some diversion and intervention programs he initiated. They have cut down on the Glynn County recidivism rate for misdemeanor offenders considerably. If elected, I will pursue that avenue of relief for jail overcrowding as well.  

Now, as this election nears, what we need to bear in mind is that we need a team of competent commissioners who at least approximate the intelligence, education, and competence of the administrator and staff; who do not fear the future but embrace it; and who will guide the county into the future with absolute integrity, dedication-to-duty, and scrupulously fair treatment of and impartiality toward any and all citizens.

 I’ve previously detailed why I’m confident that I am your best choice for that team in the District 4 seat. I hope that you will allow me the privilege and the honor of serving you in that capacity to the very best of my ability.

I would deeply appreciate your voting for me on July 20th.

Thank You.

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