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COLUMN: Calling for a do-over

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By Ben Carlson

Anderson County needs a do-over.

A do-over, that is, on the board of health’s decision to construct a $2 million building near Walmart.

For the life of me I cannot make sense of that decision, and not from the perspective of whether such a building is even needed.

Here’s what doesn’t add up: The health board, after years of contemplation and consideration of roughly 20 options, chose to swap a perfectly good public building plus $125,000 in cash for 2 acres of land near Walmart.

Not that the swap isn’t equitable. The current health building being traded was appraised at around $450,000. The land near Walmart is, or at least was, valued at about $300,000 an acre. Throw in the cash and the deal is about a wash.

The trouble is why on earth the health board didn’t consider — and apparently never was offered — to swap its current building for land in the county park near the Bypass entrance.

If those assessments are to be believed, that would have saved a $450,000 building and $125,000 in cash, which equals 575,000 of our tax dollars. It would have also provided a badly needed home for the sheriff’s department.

Adding insult to this public injury is that not one man- or woman-jack who leads this county has stepped up to ask some questions. Instead, our magistrates — several of whom I know are outraged by the health board’s decision — apparently have stuck their up-for-election-next-year heads in the sand and have yet to breathe a public word about it.

Not that they have any real power or say in the matter. Unlike other public bodies, the health board is the epitome of taxation without representation. The public does not elect its members, nor does the fiscal court appoint them. They are appointed at the state level, and taxpayers — I’ve heard plenty of outrage from them, too — have no recourse when they don’t like decisions that have been made.

Taxpayers can’t vote them out of office, nor can they vote out of office those who make these appointments.

Nevertheless, our magistrates can and certainly should bring this issue up in open fiscal court and at a minimum ask health board representatives to explain this decision.

Or they could ask the judge-executive. He serves on the health board and voted for this idea, and magistrates should ask him to explain why swapping park land for that building was never at least offered to the fiscal court for discussion, especially considering that blueprints were previously drawn up for that very purpose.

When I asked the judge-executive about the idea, his response what that it wouldn’t work because it would case traffic issues in the park and the Department of Transportation would never allow another stoplight on the Bypass.

Traffic issues in the park? According to the public health director, there are an average of 40 visitors per day to the health department. If each drove their own vehicle, that would add a whopping five cars to the park per hour based on an eight-hour day.

Think that’s bad? Try this: Following the health board’s vote, I asked the health board chairman why so much more room was needed. His response included the notion that a large community meeting room is needed for, among other things, teaching people how to read because people who can read are healthier.

Wow.

And all this time I thought we were paying school taxes to accomplish that mission, or supporting Anderson Community Education’s efforts to teach reading skills to adults.

So is it too late for a do-over? Probably. Contracts are being signed and loans are being approved as you read, and taxpayers can’t hold accountable those they don’t elect.

They can, however, hold accountable those who are elected, and if nothing else seriously consider how they will vote next spring and fall if the magistrate who represents their district doesn’t at least attempt to get answers in public about this decision.

I won’t, and you shouldn’t, hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.