Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: Columbus Council playing the same ol' budget games

Here's the way this game works. The mayor sets the bait and council makes the switch. And when the game is over, our garbage is still picked up twice a week and the Marshal's Office is still intact.

You remember it now. We play it nearly every time a new city budget is proposed. It started again last week when Mayor Teresa Tomlinson outlined her fiscal year 2016 budget. Like so many mayors before her, she wants to move to once-a week trash pickup and eliminate duplicated services among our three law enforcement agencies.

According to the mayor's math, reducing household garbage pickups would save the city almost half a million dollars. She also wants to change the policy for picking up yard waste, a savings of another $495,000. To a government strapped for cash, a $995,000 savings sounds delicious. So does less wear and tear on the city's aging fleet of garbage trucks. Replacing those 56 vehicles would cost $12.6 million.

The chorus behind her was in perfect harmony. Skip Henderson, chairman of the Budget Review Committee, said council has no choice but to consider the proposal this time. To that he added the urgency of dealing with the city's dilapidated garbage trucks.

Tomlinson also wants to cut the budgets of Sheriff John Darr and Marshal Greg Countryman -- elected officials with whom she is already bickering. Under her proposal, the duties of the police department would be increased.

Darr is shopping for support on social media. Supporters are rallying behind his posts on Facebook and bumper stickers are coming. Countryman is, as usual, playing power politics.

The personalities are different, but questions about the need for three law enforcement agencies in Muscogee County dates back to the writing of the city charter and the consolidation of city and county governments.

What Councilor Judy Thomas said about garbage pickup could be applied to these other issues. "We need to settle it one way or the other for good," she said. "It's been dragging on for years now, and we need to settle it once and for all."

Thomas is right on target. These questions need answers. They've been dragging on too long. But can they be handled in the constraints of the budget discussions? A separate subcommittee should be formed dedicated only to these issues.

The time for game playing is over.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906