Tuesday, January 25, 2011

25 JAN 11: The Big C

This new Columbus mayor is proving to be hard to categorize. Only days after acting like a Republican and refusing to make any midyear budget adjustments, Teresa Tomlinson sounded like a Democrat Monday. After three weeks in office, she declared a crisis.

WRBL quoted Mayor Teresa Tomlinson as saying the city of Columbus faces a budget crisis. She said this at the first meeting with city department heads on the fiscal 2012 budget. All those directors fit comfortably in a room at the Trade Center - so it's too bad that building was booked solid on Inauguration Day.

Mayor Tomlinson advised department directors the next city budget will be a "maintenance" budget, not a "growth" budget. In other words, alteration shops can expect a booming business in the next several months - with apologies to uniform supply stores.

The mayor indicated NO money will be available for capital projects next fiscal year. That's why the City Manager's wife is serving in the Georgia House, anyway - getting projects approved at the state capital.

Mayor Tomlinson opened the door for more city fee increases. She said building permit fees are "outdated" by about 25 years. Of course, the Columbus Tea Party would take that to mean the fee should be zero....

If that's not controversial enough, city officials hinted surplus money from the "streets and safety" sales tax might be moved to other city departments where money is tight. The last thing Columbus needs is to have Council agendas printed on cheap newsprint that curls up at the corners.

Yet Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr noted Monday night he was supposed to gain 78 new officers from the local option sales tax. Darr says so far, he only has six - and I can't help wondering if a police academy reject was arrested recently at Steak 'n' Shake.

City officials say Columbus is using six million dollars in reserve funds to meet the fiscal 2011 budget. The new mayor does NOT want a repeat of that next fiscal year. People in Atlanta already are concerned about what can happen when a "pool" drops too low - and they've probably stocked up on bottled water, should it happen again.

On top of that, sales tax collections in Columbus are down about three percent this fiscal year. So much for any more sales tax holidays - we might face winter storm "make-up days" with double taxes instead.

Mayor Tomlinson said the hiring of new city employees will be "discouraged." Translation: by June, Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin may be running almost every agency in town.

But the point which stood out for me Monday was the declaration of a "crisis." Political nitpickers know that's a touchy word with many people. Republicans challenged President Clinton's claim of a "health care crisis" in the 1990s - and of course, that's when Rush Limbaugh became the official national arbiter of whether we have a "crisis" or a "problem."

And what will soldiers heading for Fort Benning from Fort Knox think, when they learn they're moving to a city in crisis? Will they be so concerned that they live outside the Columbus city limits? Or will they take comfort in knowing Fort Benning has a top Marksmanship School?

If Columbus city officials are serious about saving money, they might want to examine the Phenix City School District. WLTZ reported Monday night the schools have reduced their energy bills $800,000 over the last two years. How DO they recycle the hot air uttered at city council meetings?

An e-mail related to the city budget reached me Monday, but I saw it too late to make calls about it. So that goes on the "to-do" list, while we check other headlines....

+ Columbus Police told WLTZ an officer caught two men making a cocaine deal in a restroom at the Uptown Tap. This is what can happen when bars don't sell Four-Loko.

+ WRBL interviewed a man who said Moon Road and Veterans Parkway should have been widened years ago, before "that strip mall" opened. I've never heard Columbus Park Crossing described as a "strip mall" before. But then again, maybe that man has money invested in Peachtree Mall.

+ Victoryland owner Milton McGregor asked a federal judge for a separate trial in April on corruption charges. The current plan is for several suspects to be tried together - but a dog track operator like McGregor realizes you're less likely to win a big combination bet.

+ Georgia House Speaker David Ralston explained why he and his family took a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving, which was funded by a lobbyist. Ralston called it a fact-finding trip about European railroads. If he can get lawmakers over their fear of riding MARTA trains, maybe it was worthwhile.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer website reported Logan's Roadhouse on Manchester Expressway has closed temporarily. There's some sort of trouble in the restaurant's pipes. I want trim steaks, but that doesn't mean you should pour excess fat down the drain.

+ A Montgomery law firm filed a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell, claiming the restaurant chain's "beef" really includes a lot of fillers. Taco Bell spokespeople deny their advertising is misleading - but don't you wonder where that talking Chihuahua went?

+ Instant Message to Captain D's on the 280 Bypass in Phenix City: About that sign, "$2.99 WORLD'S GREATEST SAND" - well, your price probably DOES beat a round-trip to Panama City Beach.

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