Tax increase forum: Public
mistrust hot topic

LAWRENCEVILLE - Much of the public dismay expressed Thursday over a proposed tax increase boiled down to public mistrust.

Recent issues such as the funding of a controversial stadium, solid waste lawsuit, rezonings, assessment changes and questionable land acquisition issues were brought up as public officials fielded questions at the second forum sponsored by FreedomWorks and Citizens for Responsible Government.

"There's such a level of mistrust and that has to be addressed in some way," said Sabrina Smith, a founder of the citizens group.

Randy Taczynsky said he doesn't believe county officials have done enough to cut expenses to create a need for the proposed 2.28 mill increase.

"You really need to analyze expenses and do without what you can," he said.

But Chairman Charles Bannister, District Attorney Danny Porter and Chief Financial Officer Aaron Bovos outlined several times up to $120 million in cuts that have taken place over the past year.

"We're now at the point where the people are going to have to make some choices, not just about the fun things but about the real things," he said, pointing to the recent bust of a Mexican drug cartel in Gwinnett as some of the crime issues that police officers and public safety personnel need to combat. "It's not a game we can lose, or baseball fields will become irrelevant."

According to a hand poll of the crowd of more than 200, most people did not support the current tax increase, but most of the crowd - who also said they did not have children participating in park activities - said they would support a smaller increase to fund public safety.

While official public hearings on the proposal are scheduled for Nov. 23 and Dec. 1, people used the forum to ask about other solutions, such as implementing a new sales tax to fund operations.

Members of the crowd got heated at times, but most were simply emotional about the subject.

"What you're calling leadership right now is not what I'm interested in," said Buford man Jim Zehe, who said his salary has been cut in half. "I've got my budget to the bone, and I'm looking at nickels and dimes ... I don't believe in cutting police. I don't believe in cutting the fire department. ... Everything we are looking at now has been essential."

Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who asked that a tax proposal be re-evaluated after the board voted in June to shelve a larger tax increase proposal, said he wasn't going to be able to make everyone happy.

But he said he's heard from parents who won't be able to afford to sign their children up for Little League because the county passed on the expense of lights to the youth association. And he is disturbed about the two women who were molested in county parks since the park police was disbanded.

"I don't want that to happen anymore," he said. "I feel your pain ... but everything we do is a chain of reaction."

Bannister said the increase is necessary to protect residents.

"I pay taxes. It hits us all," he said. "It hurts me to have to do this but to do otherwise is a dereliction of duty."