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ASK THE EXPERTS

Georgia government gets more open in 2009

POSTED: January 14, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Many folks still feel that too much government is conducted behind closed doors.

  

The Transparency in Government Act, which was signed by Governor Perdue last May, is designed to remedy that concern even further. 

  

The Open Georgia Web site www.open.georgia.gov/ became an operational reality Jan. 5, 2009.    

  

The Web site allows Georgians online access to agency expenditures on professional services, employee salaries and travel, state financial reports, and program reviews from the two previous fiscal years. 

  

In 2010, it will be expanded to include grant and contract payments to vendors by state agencies.

  

When I explored the Open Georgia Web site, I was able to discover how much various university professors made and how much they spent on travel. 

  

The site does not include counties, cities or local school systems. We can see what the Governor makes, but not the local school superintendent. 

  

I look forward to local governments creating Web sites so citizens can track local expenditures.

  

By the way, in 2008 the governor’s salary was $137,310.24, far less than any of the university presidents. His travel expenses were $47,206.17.

  

Gov. Perdue commented, “The Open Georgia Web site makes state government more transparent to its customer, the taxpayer.  By being willing to further open the halls of government to the public, we give citizens more confidence that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.”

  

All members of the General Assembly make the same amount annually:  $17,341.68, plus up to $7,000 for travel and office expenses. Any monies not spent return to the treasury.

  

About 100 hunters from Lumpkin, Dawson and surrounding counties gathered recently at the Lumpkin County Community Center to provide input to DNR for rules governing the next two hunting seasons.   

  

Two suggestions voiced by the majority were that training of hunting dogs should be allowed in the National Forests during non-hunting season, and that the gates into the forests should be open for hunters training their dogs. 

  

I called Congressman Nathan Deal’s office with the hunter’s request. Since the National Forest is federally regulated, he is our best hope for getting federal rules changed.

  

Other subjects receiving considerable discussion were doe-days, a fall turkey season, and problems with hikers, bikers and horse riders traversing an area being hunted.  One suggestion was to post signs informing the non-hunters that a hunt was in progress.

  

Last Wednesday, Lumpkin County Tax Commissioner Rachel Pruitt and I held a special meeting with interested constituents to discuss the new tax relief legislation for persons 65 and older or those totally disabled.

  

The legislation passed by over 75 percent of the vote and includes relief from county, city and school taxes. 

  

Almost 100 people showed up for the discussion. Pruitt provided everyone present with the necessary forms to complete and turn in to the Tax Assessor before April 1, 2009 to qualify for 2009 ad valorem tax relief. Those who did not attend can get the application forms from their local tax commissioner.

  

The number one priority in the 2009 Legislative Session is to get statewide ad valorem property tax relief passed. The governor, lt. governor and the Speaker of the House all agree that caps should be placed on property tax increases.  It’s past time to end “back door” property tax increases that penalize taxpayers and protect politicians. 

  

What point in time should be chosen as the cap date? Should it be when the property was originally purchased, even if it was 20 years ago? Should it be at the high point of the real estate boom in the early 2000s?

  

Or should it be when we hit the bottom of this recession, maybe later this year?

  

Another question is how much should we allow taxes to grow before the cap comes into play? Is 3 percent a good number, or should it be something else?

  

These are questions that I will be asking during our legislative discussions.

  

The Thursday morning Lumpkin County Sunrise Rotary Club invited me to speak on the upcoming Legislative Session. I was prepared to discuss property taxes, transportation, trauma care, education and energy, but the discussions were so lively that time ran out before we got to education and energy. I invited them to continue the discussion with me at one of my Saturday morning breakfasts with constituents. 

  

My first two Saturday morning breakfasts during the 2009 Session will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 and 24. 

  

Let me continue to hear from you about the best way to cap ad valorem property taxes. 

  

Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334, (404) 657-8534, fax (404) 463-2044, e-mail amos.amerson@house.ga.gov. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788. He’ll know how to get your message to me. 

 

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