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Time to give it back?
editor's notes

First, a thought on this whole “send them back” chant being perpetrated by angry white folks at rallies and aimed at anybody who comes from somewhere else and dares to question the status quo.

It’s worth remembering, I think, that the first Americans were not lily white Europeans. They were native Americans, Indians, and they didn’t chant “go back home” at us, at least not until it was too late to do any good.

Instead, this country’s first inhabitants, its native peoples, welcomed us with open arms and kept the first settlers from starving, or so says Thanksgiving lore. We repaid them by herding those we could onto reservations and killing off those who fought back.

In penance, I think we should give them the country back, although now that we’ve messed it up so much I doubt they’ll take it.

Like many southerners, I believe I have some small trace of Cherokee blood in my veins, so I leave you with this, said to be a Cherokee proverb but sounding a lot like something my grandfather used to say whenever he was in a philosophical mood.

“When the white man discovered this country, Indians were running it. No taxes no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this.”

And speaking of our system, I can’t remember the first time somebody told me residential growth would lower property taxes.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Welp,” somebody said, and I’m paraphrasing here. “Once we get enough rooftops around here, the commercial investment will follow, and that combined with a bigger industrial base will lower property taxes. Probably take about 10 years or so. But first we gotta have enough rooftops. Rooftops are the key.”

That was maybe 2005 or so, which was a decade or so after rooftops really started popping up here and there and anyplace that couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. As one critic of development and developers so eloquently put it at the time, that’s also back when just about everybody with a pickup and a cell phone rode around started calling themselves a developer.

Sure enough, though, as the rooftops kept coming, commercial growth followed. And over the years some industrial and warehouse operations, etc., have gallivanted in as well, to much acclaim and back patting. No complaints there. What didn’t follow was lower taxes. And hasn’t yet.

For one thing, manufacturers and other job providers moving here don’t open up shop to pay a lot of taxes. You wouldn’t either. They come here to make money, and they’ll play one county off against another, and one state against another, to get the best deal they can.

You and me would do the same.

Said deals are public record, of course, but those in the business of bringing jobs to a community tend to throw guilt trips at overworked reporters by saying if we chase information on incentives offered companies looking to move in we’ll cost jobs and nobody wants to do that, least of all overworked reporters with 40 stories they’ll never get to anyway. There aren’t enough hours in a day.

However, I’d be willing to bet many if not most of the jobs created in a particular community don’t go to people already living here, they go to folks who move here, which of course means more people, which means more pressure on infrastructure and local government services, which means more government, which means bigger budgets, which leads to an increased demand for taxes.

Impact fees will no doubt help, but they’re at best a band aid. SPLOST was supposed to help keep property taxes down by paying for capitol projects and equipment, but it hasn’t so far. This may be because, A) voters approve exemptions without understanding that leaves fewer folks to pay the bills; and B) our growing population, which leads to operating costs going ever upward.

Case in point: Bryan County Schools had an operating budget of $50 something million around 2014 or so (I’m writing from memory, so forgive my ballparking). They’re in the process of adopting a general fund budget this school year of more than $86 million, an increase of $30-something milion in about five years. Why? They need more stuff.

More schools, more teachers, more administrators, more people to answer phones and handle paperwork and do the work so teachers can teach and coaches can coach and administrators can administrate.

You got more people, you need more employees and things to make sure the people are taken care of, or at the very least don’t have to wait three hours for an ambulance if they fall out at a fish fry or get run over by some texting teenager on Highway 280.

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