Depending on whether the judicial system works, the city of Albany’s Big Tax Lie may soon come to a screeching halt and our municipal government may have to start living within its means. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the class-action suit filed last week could ultimately lead to the city’s bankruptcy; and even worse news is that is evident that no one in a position of leadership understands the implications of the lawsuit or gives a hoot about just how badly they are fleecing taxpayers and victimizing the community’s future generations.
Two Albany citizens and a local business – community heroes, from our standpoint — filed a lawsuit on behalf of Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission customers saying the city’s decision to claim $60 million of an $88 million WG&L windfall, the result of a wise investment in 1999, is illegal.
Finally, someone with means in Albany has declared, “enough is enough.” And finally, an Albany law firm was willing to take on Albany’s criminalized municipal government.
How did we get here? And what do we mean by “Albany’s Big Tax Lie”?
Contrary to common fiscal sense, over the last few years, the City Commission buckled into City Manager Alfred Lott’s and Mayor Willie Adams’ disgusting scheme to make government bigger and more expensive by digging into the city’s reserves and tapping the city’s cash cow – its utility department. We pointed out that the latter was wrong, if not illegal, from Day 1. The city’s response or lack thereof, essentially, was the same as it has been as it has been as it has shamefully stolen from taxpayers since Adams and cohort commissioner Tommie Postell were elected in 2004: Try to stop us, and if you do, we’ll out-lawyer you. And regrettably, the lawyers went for the money rather than upholding their profession’s published ethical standards.
In addition to steering money to friends and political contributors, over the past three years, the City Commission has committed millions of dollars per year in more personnel and exorbitant salaries – particularly at the executive level – in a community hit much harder by the recessions than most other U.S. cities. The city manager’s annual salary, for example, has increased more than $40,000 since 2005; the assistant city manager’s salary increased more than $20,000; and the city manager utilizes two assistants plus a downtown manager rather than one city manager. (What’s particularly troubling in this scenario is that in spite of the higher salaries, each of these executives is novices in their positions.)
The bottom line: The municipal government budget, which funds essential services such as police, fire, code enforcement and administration, grew more than 20 percent when the city’s tax digest – the value of real estate that produces ad valorem taxes – decreased. If the City Commission has to repay utility customers the millions of dollars that it has taken from them in the last two years, and to be able to pass a balanced budget in the coming years, the city first would have to finish depleting its reserves. From there, the only way to avoid bankruptcy would be to significantly cut the city’s workforce, which Lott and the City Commission claim – wrongfully – is as small as it possibly can be.
Which brings us to the Big Tax Lie. To a person, the Albany City Commission members brag that property taxes haven’t decreased. That’s a lie in itself (just check your tax bills, commissioners!), but the property tax rate indeed has only slightly increased since Lott, et al began robbing the city’s reserves and the city’s utility customers.
The class-action plaintiffs have sued for damages – they want utility customers to get their money back. Still, the driving force behind their complaint, and ours, is that they want the City Commission (the WG&L Commission, chaired by Adams, is appointed by the commission and simply bowed into their bosses’ demands) to do the right thing.
It’s in black and white: The $88 million refund is to be solely used to prevent utility rate hikes. And now, because of two conscientious citizens (Ardessa Floyd and Dianne Carr) and a business (P.J.’s Decorative Fabrics), opportunity is knocking in Albany.
Hopefully the judicial system, and – next November – the electorate will finally open the door to good governance in our community.