This week, in Saluda and Newberry counties, gyms were packed with residents fed up with reassessments that in some cases tripled their property taxes. While there is a state law that prevents so called "windfalls" from reassessment, there are still many property owners, especially around Lake Murray who are being hit with big tax increases.
Saluda County, according to an article in The State, is moving to not use the new assessment values for this years tax bills. The article in The State contends that could lead tax bills in Saluda County to not be issued until the Spring of 2007.
Some Newberry residents are considering boycotting the current tax bills and paying taxes at last years level.
The anger and the quandary the county governments of Saluda and Newberry are in, to me, are a result of something that has been going on all over the state. While efforts are made to cut federal and state taxes, local governments have continued to grow and grow. So called conservatives are elected to office, only to turn into tax and spenders once in office.
If you doubt that, take a look at Lexington County. This past year, Lexington County council passed a tax increase. Now, with that "not enough," Lexington County is looking to add a $25 per automobile fee and Sheriff Jim Metts is looking for a tax increase to increase his department's budget. Lexington County Council is dominated by Republicans. Lexington is perhaps the most Republican county in the state. Sheriff Metts is a Republican. Yet, those conservative Republicans are advocating for bigger and more expensive government.
How did it happen. I believe there are several factors at work. First, county governments have gotten away from their primary mission: provide essential services such as public safety, basic infrastructure, proper record keeping and the like. Things that are labeled under "quality of life" are being funded. Those things are museums, arts council funding, high priced consultants for this and that and so forth.
Second, the county governments are off track because of the apparent heavy reliance of local elected officials upon professional county employees, such as managers and directors. Those so called professional county employees are products of government. They are trained to get more money for their area of responsibility. There is simply do degree program in things like public administration out there that trains professional government employees to do more with less, or realize that their jobs and area is not essential and should be paid for by the taxpayers. More and more county council members in the Midlands and around the state just do not want to do their homework, and let the bureaucrats do it for them. No bureaucrat is going to stand up and say, "this program is not essential." It is just is not going to happen.
The third thing at work allows for the second thing to happen. Too many voters just don't pay attention to local government. Of course, those with the big tax bills in Newberry and Saluda now are, but most do not. Most people can name the President, a like number could name their US Senators or the Governor, but ask them who their county council member is, and the numbers of those who know plummets. The people and the media just don't pay proper attention to county and other local governments, and that has allowed the bureaucrats a safe haven to create big government at the local level in one of the most conservative states in the union.
Hopefully, the protests in Newberry and Saluda will be start of a change. Hopefully the angers those residents feel now will go on until the next election. Hopefully when those folks will vote for candidates who will bring limited and less expensive local and county government, not for someone whose daddy they knew or whose cousin they fish with.
If not, then the irony of the one of the most conservative states in the union having some of the fastest growing local governments will continue.