Gary Bunker’s July 21 column in the Aiken Standard, “Property Taxes Too Low?” is carefully reasoned and backed up with considerable statistical analysis.
However, it appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the impetus for the upcoming referendum on a one cent sales tax increase to fund school construction.
The motivation is not “to remake Aiken County in Columbia County’s image,” as Bunker perceives.
Although he correctly notes that an affluent suburban county should not be used as a template for a diverse community such as ours, the real problem is this: Columbia County in Georgia is taking away too many of the benefits of “Aiken’s impressive record of industrial recruitment,” precisely because of those shiny new schools that we do not have.
Specifically, almost all of the professional/managerial level people who were brought in with the recent Bridgestone/Firestone plant expansion chose to live (and pay their property taxes) in Columbia County.
In the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Blue Ribbon Panel – of which I was a member, we heard example after example of how Aiken County lost out on what should have been one of the primary benefits of our successful economic development efforts and always because of the outmoded school buildings.
Again, Bunker is correct that “real educational outcomes” and “the quality of the education within” our schools may ultimately be more important – and our panel saw no evidence that Aiken County’s schools compared unfavorably in that regard.
However, the point is that because of physical appearances, very few of the new Bridgestone/Firestone brass ever got close enough to find that out. The members of our panel were not, for the most part, people who believe in more government spending and higher taxes. Moreover, we are very cognizant that many of our residents and small businesses are living close to the edge. However, the question we found ourselves asking is, “How is it conservative not to invest in something that is so basic to making our local economy work?”
David B. Cozad