Logic would dictate: if an elected body invited the very people that placed them in office to a Public Hearing to allow them to express their opinions regarding a controversial action and if the response was a crowd that packed the Council Chambers in 100% opposition to that action, then the elected body would make one of two choices: #1 Strike down the action or #2 Table the action for further review. Most of us know by now logic did not win the day with our representatives! I was so passionate at the Public Hearing because I knew that our opinions were of absolutely no interest to two of the Councilmen! This was confirmed to me in person by one of the two Councilmen, when he told me, point blank, that nothing could have changed his vote, thusly making our turnout and speeches a complete farce!
Tacked to your water bill will be a “user fee” for garbage collection, that could cost you as much as $840 next year. There is no concurrent decrease in your taxes to offset this new “fee.” So, in essence, you are still paying for your garbage collection through your taxes and now you get to pay for your garbage collection a second time.
The sole mission and purpose for Lincolnton Municipal Government should be to provide services requested by the taxpayers. The beginning and end for City Council should be the taxpayers! The beginning should be: What is the minimum amount of money that we need to request of the taxpayers? And the end should be: How much of that money can we return to the taxpayers in the form of needed services? This is obviously not the model that is currently being followed!
Points for consideration: The expected increase in revenue from this new “tax” is projected at $475,000. With an extremely cursory examination of the budget, (Councilman Rhyne mentioned many of these) I can quickly come up with $561,500 in savings that more than offsets the $475,000. $120,000 for improvements to the Generals Blvd./Main St. intersection, $150,000 for new trash cans, $227,000 currently spent on Christmas Bonuses (on a sliding scale based on salary, topping out at over $4,000 for a single employee), a cost of living increase of $143,000. If all 157 city employees were each given a $500 Christmas Bonus, that would save the taxpayers $148,500. These savings total $561,500. This still allows for the $500 per employee Christmas bonus. Furthermore we have an available General Fund Reserve of $3.5 million that we could pull from to avoid this tax.
The taxpayers of Lincolnton currently pay health insurance premiums for not just the city employee, but the whole family. The City currently spends just over $2 million on health insurance premiums. If the employee only was covered the cost would instead be $842,000. This would be a savings of over $1.2 million.
I do not blame the City employees for this predicament! We have great city employees that provide excellent services. If benefits such as these were made available to me, I certainly would enjoy them and once I had them would not want to relinquish them. The blame for this unsustainable/untenable situation lies with City leadership! Excesses come straight out of the pockets of taxpayers.
City of Lincolnton employees already receive a virtually invaluable benefit that few in the private sector enjoy and that is job security. Since this economic spiral began not one city employee has been laid off. How do you put a value to job security, in these times?
Now for the plan of action: #1: Every person that disagrees with this new tax needs to contact Councilmen Cloninger and Heavner and request they rescind this ill-advised tax. #2: If both refuse to relent, then I suggest we look into the possibility of a recall election. #3 If 1&2 don’t work, then this fall we need to hold a candidates forum and ask each candidate one question: “If elected will you vote to rescind this additional tax?” #4 If we lose curbside pickup, then I think it is time that we push hard for City/County Consolidation. Maybe this can become a driving force get rid of all of this duplication of services/administrations.
If this “user fee/tax” is allowed to stand, what will it be next year? A higher fee? Another service, already covered under our property tax, pulled out? Maybe a “street light user fee?” Once started, where does this stop?
Bill Hitt is a guest columnist for the Lincoln Times-News.