At the April 10th meeting of the Pike County Board of Commissioners meeting, I presented the following resolution on behalf of the Democratic Party of Pike County.
Whereas, the Democratic Party of Pike County opposes most privatization of government services;
Whereas, the Democratic Party of Pike County opposes the privatization of inherently governmental services such as enforcement of codes, regulations and laws;
Whereas, the Democratic Party of Pike County believes Pike County should be the model employer of the county, providing good jobs with adequate wages and benefits to attract the talent needed for the effective administration of the County’s duties;
Resolved: The Democratic Party of Pike County opposes the privatization of the Pike County Planning & Development Department.
This resolution was in direct response to a presentation made to the commissioners back in February that would have contracted out (or privatized) the county office in charge of zoning issues in Pike County — the Pike County Planning & Development Department. A private company would take over the county zoning functions and it would make its money by keeping some or all of what Pike County currently charges as zoning fees. This raises several issues citizens should think about but — unfortunately — most citizens are only concerned with one: Money. Local knowledge, historical knowledge and financial incentives are issues that are as equally important (if you’ll take the time to think of them). But I’ll just stick with the major one in this post: Money.
Let’s go back to the commission meeting. I made my presentation early in the meeting. After about an hour’s worth of other business, two citizens got up to address their issue. Lo and behold, it’s a zoning issue. They had a small parcel of land they wanted rezoned from commercial back to residential. Pike County regulations require they pay a fee of $500 to rezone the property. The two citizens were asking the Commission to waive or adjust the fee.
It was clear that this rezoning wasn’t controversial to anyone at the meeting. It was also clear that not one commissioner wanted to impose the fee. Putting aside the fact that the county — at some point in history — had imposed this fee for some (hopefully) logical reason…the commissioners started exploring for some way to accommodate the request of these two citizens. I must point out that the commissioners asked numerous questions of a gentleman from the Pike County Planning & Development Department who responded with an in-depth knowledge of the history of the situation and a personal familiarity with the property and the surrounding area of the county.
So, let’s stop right here and pretend the Pike County Planning & Development Department was already being run by a private company. To whom would the commissioners address these questions? Would a contractor show up at every County Commission meeting? How much would that cost Pike County? Would that person live in the county? Would that person know the property in question? Would that contractor know the history of the property in question? But here’s the big question — the money question:
Would the Pike County Board of Commissioners be able to waive that fee? Or even adjust it if the fee was part of the compensation of a private company?
Think about this now. The contractor would derive their profit from the fees that are currently paid to the zoning office. I’m going to assume that a private company knows how to write a contract that protects its revenue stream. I don’t think a private company will waive or adjust its fee — much less let the commissioners do so on a case-by-case basis.
The commissioners voted to reduce the fee to $200. In other words, they cut the fee by more than half — from $500 to $200. Do you think a private company would allow anyone to cut their revenue in half? And I assume that it is now hitting some of the people reading this that the Commission cut the county’s revenue (from this source) by more than half. Because — as I understood the vote — the Commission cut the rezoning fee to $200 for everybody. Not just this one case, but for every future rezoning case.
I cannot follow the logic of this action. The proposal to contract out the zoning office was made in order to save the county money. Supposedly, a private company could do the job cheaper. (They can’t, but I’ll let that go for the moment.) If we’re trying to save money, why are we giving money away by reducing a fee from $500 to $200? I’m sure the two citizens that saved the $300 were happy with the outcome. But what about the rest of the county? Do we have to make up the expected revenue from these fees by paying a different fee or higher tax?
I believe there are bigger issues at stake than money. But I’m a Democrat. Republicans would have you believe it’s all about the money — market forces, lower taxes, invisible hands, trickle down economics and other financial voodoo. And make no mistake about it — Republicans are in charge of this county’s government. This was a Republican move in governing this county. In one meeting they’re claiming poverty. We can’t pave our roads, furnish the courthouse, pay our teachers or control stray dogs because we don’t have any money. Yet at another meeting we’re giving away hundreds of dollars in revenues after a 10 minute debate on policy.
It doesn’t make any sense to me. How about you?
Don Brown — Chairman
The Democratic Party of Pike County