No, this is not a review of Clint Eastwood’s old spaghetti western. Instead, it is a review of some things that have happened in the county over the last few weeks.
I’m glad to see that the Board of Commissioners (BOC) are finally letting go of some of the $500,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) money that they had reserved for fire equipment. Several of the volunteer fire departments (VFD’s) had submitted requests to use the funds, only to be told that their requests did not meet the SPLOST requirements for purchases. Having spoken to members of one VFD, I know their mood and opinion of the Commissioners was sinking lower and lower.
But the BOC will regain some respect and popularity with this latest action, in which they approved spending around $100,000 of the money to improve the radio communications in three departments, provide critically needed rescue equipment for four departments, and repair the pump on one department’s fire truck.
When a fire or accident takes place, it is vital for the various VFD’s to be able to communicate with each other. But Yatesville, Salem and Thurston didn’t have the communication equipment needed to be able to talk between departments. The $11,000 to $15,000 being spent to improve the communication is cheap compared to the safety concerns that will be alleviated.
What has become one of the most important pieces of emergency extraction equipment is the “Jaws of Life,” a hydraulic tool that can cut through metal and widen gaps in order to remove victims from crashed vehicles. I was shocked at a Yatesville City Council meeting a couple of months ago when they noted that while Thurston and Northside VFD’s have their own “Jaws of Life,” none of the other VFD’s had one, and if they needed the tool at a crash site, they had to call and see if there was anyone available to bring the tool out to them. Time is of the essence when you have an injured person trapped in an automobile, and not having the “Jaws of Life” on site wasted a lot of that time. But the BOC is solving that problem by purchasing one of the tools for each of the four VFD’s.
Finally, the Yatesville VFD’s fire truck’s pump is out. A fire truck without a working pump is basically useless, so for the BOC to agree to have the pump repaired is a major boost for Yatesville.
And the BOC is financing the purchases similar to a way I suggested several months ago. The equipment will be owned by the county and leased to the fire departments at a rate of $10 a year for 10 years. This gives the VFD’s some valuable equipment that they probably would not have been able to afford on their own. This is good.
While I can understand the Board of Registrar’s wanting to save the county money, and while, by state statutes, what they are proposing to do by reducing the current nine voting precincts down to three is entirely legal, I think their proposal overall is bad for the county.
The population of the county that is 65 and older is currently 17.4 percent, and since there doesn’t appear to be a lot of young people moving into the county, I can see that percentage going up. Many of the elderly, and many blacks in the county, already have transportation issues, and while they may now be able to get to their voting precincts, that choice will become much more difficult if their precinct is moved 10-12 miles further away.
Then there is the City of Yatesville. Currently, there is a voting precinct in the city. But under the proposal, that precinct would combine with Jugtown and Salem, and be located in Jugtown, outside city limits. That means, for a city election, like the one they’ll be having this November, city residents would have to drive outside city limits to vote. That’s not right.
Along the same lines, if there are only three voting precincts, that means one of the four county commissioners, who are elected by district, would have to have voters in his or her district go outside the district to vote. Again, not right.
Again, nothing they are proposing is illegal, but it’s not right, either. I hope the Board of Commissioners recommend not changing the voting precincts, and the Board of Registrars go along with the BOC’s recommendation. The proposal is bad.
I feel for county residents who get their water and sewer services from Upson County. The BOC is planning to raise water and sewer rates by more than 60 percent to make up for a shortfall and negative balance in the water and sewer budgets.
I can understand the need for the increase, because the county water and sewer system can’t continue to operate with a negative balance, much less make needed repairs to the system without money to do so.
But the county should have been watching its finances better. The last time the water and sewer department raised rates was 2010. Since then, the City of Thomaston, which is where the county gets most of its water, has raised rates three times. If the Commissioners and the county’s finance department had been doing their jobs and watching what was happening, they could have been slowly raising their rates each year to keep up with the increases, instead of hitting residents all at once with a 60 percent increase. That’s just plain ugly.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.