December 20, 2017 2:23:38 PM
In many divorces, one of the most difficult questions that emerge is, "What about the children?"
Over the past week, our worst fears have been realized: The City of Columbus and Lowndes County are parting company on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.
And the split, like many divorces, is over money.
What was once a happy marriage (remember when the city and county collaborated to build our wonderful soccer complex?) has been in a state of deterioration for more than a year now. The first tangible signs of the break-up came more than a year ago, when the county decided to walk away from an agreement with the city to operate its joint parks and recreation department.
We did not know it then, but that move was tantamount to sleeping in separate bedrooms, and the hard feelings that action created have persisted, grown and festered ever since.
It was only a matter of time before those hard feelings boiled over again.
That fight emerged in October, when the board of supervisors and city council were asked to draft a joint resolution to extend the county-wide 2-percent restaurant tax, which will expire in July.
The supervisors preferred to keep the tax as status quo. The city wanted changes that would divert revenue to its parks and recreation department, as well as money for the completion of the Terry Brown Amphitheater.
The city also wanted majority representation on the Columbus-Lowndes Convention & Visitors Bureau, an absolute non-starter for the supervisors.
As it is with most troubled marriages, both parties were urged to go to marriage counseling and, for a brief moment, it appeared progress was being made The supervisors said they were willing to agree to funding for the city's parks and the amphitheater. The council seemed ready to back off its demands on the board makeup.
Then, suddenly, it was over.
The county stormed out of the counselor's session. The city said, in effect, "Fine. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
On Friday, the supervisors passed a resolution that pretty much mirrored the soon-to-be retired tax. Gone were all of the concessions that had been on the table.
On Tuesday, it was the city's turn. The council passed a resolution supporting a bill that would implement a new food-and-beverage tax that would apply only to the city and be governed only by the city. Essentially, the city was saying, "Pick up your things now, or you can find them out on the lawn."
The likely result, both in the fate of the tax and other city/county relationships, is ruin. By the spring, it is likely that the tax used to promote tourism and economic development will no longer exist.
All that will endure is the bitterness.
Naturally, each side will blame the other.
The county has the majority of population base. The city has the overwhelming majority of the restaurants whose revenue produces the tax proceeds. Both sides feel they have the stronger argument based on those facts.
That's common in divorce, too. Each spouse is certain they contribute more and receive less than the other. "Ours'' becomes "mine" and "yours," which is almost always a sure sign a broken marriage.
Have you guessed what's missing in this debate?
It's the citizens of Lowndes County, city and county residents alike.
It appears the only people whose interests have not been considered are residents, i.e., the children. It's not a bad analogy, either, since the conduct of both the supervisors and council members suggest they view us as children, who can't really be expected to understand the issues well enough to have a meaningful say in what happens.
But we kids know a lot more than we are given credit for.
Whatever hard feelings exist, they are almost exclusively in the minds of the two city governments. County and city residents alike don't seem the despise each other. On the contrary, residents are far more likely to believe that they have more common interests than deep divisions and believe it's best to work out our differences.
The typical New Hope resident does not believe the guy who lives in the city is plotting something sinister to harm him. Likewise, the woman who lives in the city is not convinced her co-worker who lives in Caledonia is secretly hoping her house burns down.
But it's often like that in a divorce. It is the children who suffer most.
It would have been nice, at the very least, for the county and city to have paused just once to consider whether what is being proposed is good for the kids.
They would prefer us to pick sides, the sad residue of a broken home.
What about the children?
The answer appears to be, "We don't care."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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