Saturday, June 19, 2004

County Budget Battle Update

Interesting turn in events on the County Commission / County Mayor front. News leaked mid-week about some of the proposed alternate cuts the Commissioners have offered, and surprisingly Sheriff Mark Luttrell was on the news decrying them! Now, when Wharton proposed gutting his department by 17%, cutting Metro Drug and Gang Units, etc., Luttrell was the dutiful soldier who declined any negative comment and stood behind what Wharton said. No bad, undercutting (or, in my opinion, honest) word crossed his lips.

But let the Commission propose to do less damage than Wharton and suddenly we see Luttrell upset and talking lawsuits. Oh what a difference a source makes, eh?

Now Wharton is asking, before the Commission has settled on their cuts and priorities, for a resolution from the Commission supporting his future efforts to try for new "revenue sources." That's code for increasing fees and securing new taxes.
If approved, the resolution, which would set the tax rate, would also allow Wharton to immediately begin seeking state approval for a variety of alternative revenue options, including an adequate facilities tax or impact fee. This tax, which would be levied on new building permits, could generate $4 million in annual county funds.

Other possibilities include, but are not limited to, a real estate transfer tax, vector control fee, per alcohol drink tax, parking taxes, an occupational privilege tax, and an entertainment tax.
The "occupational privilege tax" is another code word for the payroll tax. With all the talk of "regionalism" and "smart growth" and "out-migration" I'd keep a real eagle eye on this one, as it's a way to capture money from folks who are otherwise beyond the reach of physical taxes like the property tax. Even the City Council is seriously looking at it. Can you imagine if both bodies implemented one?

Wharton has snookered and is out-maneuvering the County Commissioners. Told by the Commission to "cut," he gave them a budget he knew they would never pass as is, putting the pressure back on them to do the realistic thing. That would mean they would also take the politic heat, making AC look like a protector. Now that the Commissioners are finally given the details that AC should have given them in the first place, weeks after handing in the "doomsday" budget, Wharton is rushing them to make commitments they shouldn't be making yet. And Luttrell has added his voice to the chorus of pressure.

Remember: AC Ain't For Me.

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