July 17, 2018 10:55:53 AM
It is no secret that bad blood exists between the governing bodies of Lowndes County and the city of Columbus. For more than two years, the two entities have been sniping at each other openly. The relationship that once collaborated to build The Columbus Soccer Complex and enhance the adjoining Riverwalk -- without question two of the best public projects in years -- has now fallen apart.
In September 2016, the county's board of supervisors voted to dissolve the joint parks and recreation department to form its own organization, creating a gaping wound in county-city relations that persists today. That the city has yet to settle its financial obligations to the county after the Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority was dissolved has been a point of contention for the supervisors, justifiably so.
Then, last fall, the county and city clashed again, this time over the language of a bill that would have extended the county's two-percent restaurant tax. Although the two bodies ultimately agreed on a plan, it was not without bitter disagreements between county and city officials.
On Monday, the board of supervisors appears to have responded in a way that no citizen of Lowndes County should condone.
The board of supervisors, by a 4-0 vote, approved raising the fee the county charges for collecting the city's ad valorem taxes from $120,000 to $200,000. That's four times the amount Oktibbeha County charges the city of Starkville for those services.
City officials say they were caught off-guard by the supervisors' move to raise the fee by two-thirds and questioned why there had been no discussions between the supervisors and city over a possible increase.
The county's position is that the $80,000 increase covers the loss of car tag ad valorem it has been losing since the city and county reduced the fee the county charged for car tag taxes from 5 percent to 2 percent in 2009. At that time, both the city and county voted unanimously on the change.
Our question is what has changed since 2009, when the county was comfortable with that change in fee?
In the absence of any explanation for that, and given the timing of the supervisor's action, we are inclined to believe the supervisors are using the fee hike to punish the city for its handing of the CLRA break-up.
And it is at this point that the supervisors have crossed a pretty big line.
Policy is tool of good governance, not a weapon to be brandished to settle old grievances, especially when the citizens of our community become essentially collateral damage.
It's petty and doesn't advance our community in any constructive way.
The supervisors and city council should sit down at the table to iron out this. If the supervisors can make a case for the increase, that's fine. But there may be room for a compromise both the county and city can live with.
We realize that county and city officials cannot be commanded to like each other. But both parties have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a way that does not harm its citizens.
A good way to start would be to stop weaponizing the few remaining areas where the county and the city work together.