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To borrow or not to borrow

Money is tight for people across the country.

And the Pike County Commission is no exception.

That was made clearer than ever as the commissioners met Tuesday to discuss something that has plagued the county for years — debt.

Even though what was at one time $10 million in debt for the Pike County Commission — and the Pike County taxpayers — has been worked down diligently to under $6 million, the county government will be faced with a similar situation: To borrow or not to borrow?

And, after Tuesday’s meeting, to borrow will likely be the choice.

What remains to be seen is the size of the loan the commission may find themselves seeking to bail out a road department anticipating an $80,000 shortfall come October.

It has never been a question of whether times would be hard for the road department this year. What they did not anticipate is just how bad it would get.

Although the workforce has been cut significantly over years and the department has even sold its own equipment to make payroll and complete projects, the county has still found itself with less.

The commission often gets flack for some of the decisions made with county money — things like travel, employee raises and discretionary funds are just a few.

But, the funds that support these things are not from the same budget as the road department, with the exception of road department employee salaries. Agree with the commission’s funding decisions or not, what is uncontestable is something has to be done.

And if the road department has been as frugal as indicated by its officials this year, borrowing may be the only option at this point.

That is what is concerning to me, a taxpaying resident of Pike County.

Funding in the county road department is limited. Its main revenue source comes from a state gas tax with an amount set in 1993, and the commission has no control that income.

Commissioners themselves have said a new revenue stream has to be found, and I agree.

I agree with District 1 Commissioner Homer Wright, who has tried for years to get an additional lodging tax placed on hotels in Pike County. Whether this is the right way to bring in more funds, I’m not sure.

But, I am sure that it is at least a step in the right direction.

The tax would be a 2-percent tax placed on the total hotel room costs locally, bringing the total taxes up to 8 percent. It’s something that could place a burden on some hotel owners, and the county would run a risk of being more expensive than surrounding areas.

But, at the same time, it could generate between $75,000 to $125,000, depending on occupancy.

The amount would make little dents in the money needed for the road department, but it just might be a step in the right direction.

So I say, let’s give it a vote in the 2010 election. Whether the county residents can vote, all depends on whether our local legislators Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, will bring this forward to pass in the next legislative session.

I urge them to just that.

And I also urge our local commissioners to get more creative.

The county government provides several services we as residents need.

Commissioners, without more funds, we will suffer, too.

Holli Keaton is news editor for The Messenger. She can be reached at holli.keaton@troymessenger.com