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Tax issue not easily decided

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Ralph David Dowdy didn't follow the politics earlier this year, when commissioners considered and then voted down a tax increase.

But now, the issues affect more than his property tax bill.

Last Friday, Dowdy was fuming when he left a Gwinnett County courtroom and rushed to the other side of the courthouse to try to talk to his commissioner.

His former brother-in-law owes him more than $20,000 in child support, medical and education bills, yet a judge refused to sentence him to a work-release program at the local prison.

Because of drug problems with the parents, Dowdy got permanent custody of the child in 2000. Her mother later died, and the girl was adopted in 2006.

Yet after nine years of trying to recoup money from the man, Dowdy had little hope he would see a dime if the court simply garnished his brother-in-law's wages, and he had already escaped from the work-release program once.

But Dowdy believed the program, along with an ankle monitor, was his best chance at getting any money.

However, in July, after voters protested the proposed tax increase, commissioners voted to close the county prison by July 2011, with the work-release program set to expire at the end of the year.

The judge didn't have that option anymore.

"It's not gone until Dec. 31. Why let the guys walk now?" Dowdy said.

The story isn't over yet.

The same day the Grayson man got the aggravating news that his brother-in-law wouldn't live in prison while he worked down the debt he owed his daughter, county officials presented a proposal to keep the prison open, along with restoring other public safety cuts and bridging a gap for courts and criminal justice.

Their solution, though, involves a 2.29 mill tax increase.

"It gets old constantly getting taxed, but at the same time, you've got to keep certain programs," Dowdy said. "The work-release program, I think most of the time, it's a good thing."

Dowdy adopted the child in 2006. She is in college now, with a dream to become a doctor. He hopes to get the child support money to pay for that.

As a disabled veteran, he said another property tax increase would hurt, especially after the state cut the homeowners tax relief grant.

But judges need to be able to put criminals and deadbeats behind bars, he said.

"Otherwise, who cares for the kids?" he said. "If that's what it's going to take, I guess it's OK. I don't know what else to say. We've got to do something."