The Chronicle's Sept. 16 article concerning the Columbia County school system's belief that it shouldn't have to pay the new stormwater fee is a perfect example of how the county government has failed to properly inform residents on this issue.
School officials feel it would be unconstitutional to require them to pay the fee, and also believe this is a case of double taxation, since property owners already pay a property tax. The response from county attorney Doug Batchelor was, "This isn't a tax, it's a fee."
This seems like legalistic doubletalk of the sort that often causes people to feel frustration toward political officials and government bureaucrats. However, it's obvious that when it comes to the question of legality, there really is a huge difference between a tax and a user fee.
During the recent uproar regarding this issue, county officials have been quick to point out that the proposal for a stormwater fee has been in the works since 1997 and that they have attempted to keep residents informed on it. Indeed, several recent stories in The Chronicle have included references as to how many previous articles on the issue have appeared in the newspaper (well over 100).
However, The Chronicle reports have interchangeably used the words "tax" and "fee" to describe the assessment. In just one recent example, the Aug. 29 edition included an article headlined "Residents give stormwater tax mixed response." The Chronicle is hardly alone in doing this. I've heard numerous local radio and television reporters refer to the charge as a tax.
Have Columbia County officials been reading the newspaper, or listening to radio and TV reporters refer to this as a tax? If the difference between a tax and a fee is as important as it appears to be, a few phone calls to an editor and some news directors could have set the story straight...
Jim Murrah, Grovetown
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