It is now more than apparent that the Effingham County Board of Commissioners isn’t just fractious in its working relationship, it’s fractured.
The signs of the six commissioners splintering into an almost equal number of individual factions have been there for many weeks. But the end of their last meeting has revealed that those growing divisions may have deepened and broadened, perhaps beyond repair.
Now there are threats of lawsuits and accusations of defamation getting tossed around.
I won’t plea for the commissioners to bridge their differences. In fact, having commissioners on opposite sides of issues, explaining their positions and differences is, what should be happening. Exchanges of opinion can be healthy. What’s happening now is symptomatic of a dysfunctional body at work.
I’m not sure how much I buy into the proposition that a fighting, divided board frightens potential businesses. I once worked and lived in a county where, before I got there, the county commission chairman challenged another commissioner to step outside and settle matters with their fists — during a meeting. That didn’t deter businesses and industries from coming. Other issues did, but not that one.
What should be more troubling is what the board has, or hasn’t, accomplished. They voted to leave fire fees at their current state, after a handful of lengthy discussions on those fees. They also took several stabs at the distance requirements in the alcohol ordinance before finally approving the changes.
When it comes to fire fees, the service delivery agreement means the county can’t assess property taxes on everybody to pay for fire protection. In order to pay for fire services without creating a special tax for a special tax district, county staff came up with a variety of fire fee proposals. The remainder of the fire budget not covered by the fees would be covered by a mix of other revenue sources, including franchise fees and insurance premium rollbacks.
Yet some of those fees also could be used to pay down debt or debt service on the county’s water and sewer system. The county still faces an onerous debt on its water and wastewater infrastructure. That debt load was there in January 2011 when the new commissioners came on board. It remains there today, with no evident means of addressing it.
So far, the current group has managed to limit the powers of the at-large chairman, rendering it a ceremonial post at the worst. I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something else and the best I can come up with is backing the sheriff’s request for a traffic enforcement unit.
Contentiousness has been simmering with this board for nearly a year and a half anyway. The commissioners shouldn’t be asked to be get along all the time. There should be differences. But at the very least, those differences need to be enunciated reasonably and without antagonism.
In the near future, that doesn’t seem likely.