Posted in: Editorial, Opinion

Taxpayers Deserve Answers, Not Shell Games

Posted on October 15, 2013

Taxpayers Deserve Answers,  Not Shell Games

Over the last few months, both the County and City governments have been less than honest with millions of dollars of money belonging to the people they represent.

First up, the Leon County Commission and the five-cent increase in the gas tax that was passed by a vote of 7-2 (Commissioners Sauls and Proctor voted against).

The most popular rationale in favor of passage was the fact that it was a usage tax – the more you drive the more you pay. Other County Commissioners noted that it is a tax that is paid by people that live outside Leon County, but travel the roads to get to work. And finally, it was highlighted that the materials used to maintain roads -asphalt – is a petroleum based product that has significantly increased in price over the last five years and the revenue is needed to maintain the transportation infrastructure.

The assumption of most people that heard these rationales was that an increase in the gas tax, which would result in $2 million in additional annual revenue, would increase expenditures for road maintenance.
Yet a review of the 2014 budget reveals that road maintenance expenditures will only increase by $800,000-less than half of the $2 million in additional revenue generated by the new tax.

If not to road maintenance or other transportation projects, where will the other $1.2 million go? Will it subsidize pay raises or plug another whole in the budget? The Leon County Commission owes an answer to those who pay this tax.

Next up, the City. As detailed by Tallahassee Reports, the City of Tallahassee recently renegotiated the contract with Waste Pro, the private vendor that provides trash pick up services for close to 50,000 residents. The negotiation resulted in a 15% decrease in the fees charged by Waste Pro. However, the savings were not passed on to consumers, rather, unbelievably, the City actually increased the fees to City residents.

In fact, the City Commission was not even given the option in the agenda item developed by City staff to vote to pass on the savings to the customers. It is also true, not one City Commissioner asked for the savings to be passed on to their constituents.

Further research revealed that the City of Tallahassee is charging approximately $3 million more a year for trash pick-up than it actually cost to deliver the service. Approximately $1.6 million of these excess charges go to the general fund to help support core city services. This leaves $1.4 million unaccounted for. Where is this money and what does it pay for? The City Commission owes its citizens an explanation.

Taken together, the action by the Leon County Commission and the City Commission will result in the annual collection of approximately $2.5 million in fees or taxes that are not being spent on the services they say they are being collected for.

These shell games during tough economic times is unacceptable and can do nothing but increase the level of distrust between the government and the people they get paid to represent.

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