Next week’s municipal elections will be a small snapshot on how the public is reacting to the financial stress facing many city governments. Over the last year, many local towns have had to do something they’ve never done in my lifetime — cut spending.
That has been an earth-shattering event, especially for long-time city officials who have only known grow, grow, grow during their tenure. One year ago, many had no idea how to cut city spending (some didn’t and now face major shortfalls.)
While painful for the towns involved, the cutting of city budgets has had a benefit in that it forced city officials to become more efficient. All too often, government employees are under-worked and overpaid, especially at the state level. Government is notorious for having two people doing the work of one.
No longer. The lack of revenues has forced cutbacks, which goes to prove that the only way to restrain to growth in government is to cut off its supply of tax dollars.
But this financial pressure has also brought to light weaknesses in several local city governments, weaknesses in leadership and financial stewardship:
--Hoschton is reeling from a series of financial disasters and mismanagement. The town’s survival is at stake in the coming months.
--Pendergrass is planning to mortgage its city hall for operating cash. The city’s leadership is under pressure from a GBI investigation and a recall effort. Large swaths of real estate in the town have been foreclosed, or face foreclosure. The town is a mess.
--Arcade has had to slash its budget and cut its police force. For years the police force was a major speed trap (not by legal definition, but by actual practice.) Now it’s a shadow of those days. City leaders’ big dreams have been shattered.
--Nicholson had been a big-city wannabe until it got entangled with Pendergrass and nearly made some major mistakes. Today, the community is divided on its city leadership.
Those are the most serious examples, but every town in the county faces cutbacks and financial stress.
While most towns have done the right thing in making cuts, that has impacted some services in the communities. Cuts in law enforcement have come under fire in Arcade, for example. Some citizens don’t want to pay higher taxes, but they also don’t want city services to be affected during this economic downturn.
Will voters react to that by tossing out incumbents, or will they vote next week to maintain the status quo through the downturn?
What are the hottest races in local city elections?
1. Hoschton mayor’s race. The town is suffering from years of financial problems. Nobody, including the three candidates running for mayor, appear to have any solutions. Without quick action and strong leadership by the next mayor, Hoschton’s days as an incorporated city may be numbered.
2. Nicholson mayor’s race. Incumbent Ronnie Maxwell has stirred up a lot of controversy in the last few years. Can he survive this year’s challenge?
3. Jefferson mayor’s race. While incumbent mayor Jim Joiner is likely to return to office with a large percentage, the race has been marked by anonymous emails (not from Joiner) that seek to discredit his challenger. How much of an impact will that kind of cyber-sliming have in the final outcome?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.