April 6, 2013

Blame game deflects attention from the issue

April 6, 2013 The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — Millions of gallons of partially treated and raw sewage has been dumped into the Withlacoochee River and its tributaries by the City of Valdosta over 25 to 30 years. Sewage overflows from manhole covers and sewage overflows in residential neighborhoods and commercial areas occur every time it rains more than a few inches in a short time period.

These are facts, indisputable facts, and a blight on our City’s reputation. Trying to deflect attention from these facts is merely an attempt to direct the public’s attention away from the issue. Considering how pervasive the sewage problems have become, the public isn’t so easily fooled.

It’s admirable that the Chamber is concerned about the city’s reputation. They are simply doing their job, which is to protect member businesses and oversee the economic well-being of the community.

The Times is doing its job as well. It’s the newspaper's responsibility to inform the public of issues in the community as government watchdogs over taxpayers’ and citizens’ interests. The Times doesn’t create the issues which embarrass public officials — the newspaper merely reports them. And the Times considers millions upon millions of gallons of sewage spilled to be an issue.

As readers can see from today’s stories, the Times has attempted to get answers to our questions, even to the point of repeating the questions several times. Readers can also see the answers provided. If there are misunderstandings that are printed, perhaps now the community can see why.

The Times apologizes for implying that the city was past due in its GEFA loans, as GEFA states that’s not the case, but that still doesn’t explain the contradictory answers or the disparities between the city’s loan spreadsheets and GEFA’s.

Ultimately, the Times is trying to find out where the money has gone from the water/sewer fund, how the city intends to pay back its current debt and the future debt it is in the process of applying for, and what short-term solutions the city is going to provide to the residents and businesses affected by small rain events until the lines and the plant are rebuilt, in three to four years time.

After this $32 million GEFA loan is awarded, the City will be in debt to GEFA for almost $90 million. The Times is trying to find out how those loans will be repaid if SPLOST doesn’t pass. Does the City intend to try and get a SPLOST this November and a MOST next year as well?

Perhaps after giving the Chamber group information on the City’s financial status, the Mayor and City Manager would be willing to stop by the Times and do the same. That way, the entire community can be better informed, not just a select few.

All citizens have the right to question their elected and paid government officials. They have the right to know where their tax dollars are going and if their taxes are going to be raised. They have the right to know when sewage will stop being released into the environment and into their yards.

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