June 7, 2014

Jamie Jones: Speak your mind

If the public chooses not to be heard at a public hearing, is it still a public hearing?

Pardon the hypothetical, quasi-existentialist query.

Legally, yes, it is a public hearing. But what does it say about the open exchange of dialogue when citizens don’t step up to the microphone to speak?

The five-man Dalton Public Schools Board of Education wants to (and probably will) raise property taxes on Monday. The board must hold three public hearings before voting on the tax hike. The board held two public hearings at City Hall on May 29. The first was in the morning, the second was in the evening.

No one from the public spoke at either hearing. You have one last chance to voice your opinion.

The board holds its final public hearing Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers of City Hall at 300 W. Waugh St. (across the street from Krystal). After the hearing is the board’s regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. when members are expected to approve the tax increase.

The board plans to increase the school system’s property tax rate from 7.845 to 8.5 mills

They point to a steady drop in the local tax digest and loss in corresponding tax revenue of $3.165 million since 2009 as reasons for considering the property tax increase.

What does that mean for you?

For example, an owner of a $100,000 house now pays $784.50 in school taxes each year. At that proposed increased rate, a homeowner would pay $850.

Are you happy with paying higher taxes? Are you rip-roaring livid but feel yelling at five grown men is pointless because their minds are made up? Are you simply busy with life? Do you have to work? Did you forget? Do you care? Is this thing on?

During my 15 years at The Daily Citizen, I’ve covered scores of public meetings. The majority of them were not well attended. I understand. Most meetings are at night, on weekdays and — to be honest — boring.

Local government isn’t sexy. There is a plethora of minutia. Political jargon and legalese can be a tremendous turnoff to any citizen.

Just try to decipher the guts of a Dalton City Council meeting agenda. You will drown among the countless mentions of whereas, therefore and hereby. Better hire a lawyer to translate.

Local government must be accessible. Most, if not all, elected commissions, councils and boards offer time during each meeting for public comment. Heck, I’ve heard board members practically plead for someone to provide feedback.

Elected officials expect pushback from their constituents. It comes with the job. Most elected officials I’ve encountered are OK with dissenting opinions as long as people disagree respectfully.

And the Dalton Board of Education members actually want your input.

Danny Crutchfield, the Dalton Board of Education chairman, took to the newspaper in a letter to the editor Wednesday to encourage the public to voice their opinions at the Monday meeting on the proposed tax hike.

“As your board, we encourage open dialogue and discussion with those we represent, and on this matter especially, we would appreciate your input,” he wrote.

If you can, please attend the board’s public meeting on Monday. Speak up.

The board’s decision affects your wallet.

But it also affects your children.

Jamie Jones is managing editor of The Daily Citizen.

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