This election season, Signal Mountain residents will elect three of the five members of their town council. A candidate forum held Thursday at Alexian Village left little doubt that two of those council members should be Joe Dumas and current councilmember Bill Wallace.
Over the past dozen years, Signal Mountain residents have seen their tax rates nearly double. This is because members of the town council apparently believe that just because many residents of the upscale community can afford to pay more in local taxes, they should pay more.
This disrespectful raid on taxpayers' money came to a head last year with a vote to increase property taxes that was supported by two of the individuals running in this election: Mayor Bill Lusk and Councilmember Annette Allen.
Why was a tax increase debate needed? It wasn't because of a lack of revenue, as Lusk and Allen claimed at the time. It was because the town councilmembers, including Lusk and Allan, allowed the town's general fund budget to grow from $5.1 million in the 2009-2010 budget year to $6.4 million the next year. That outlandish 20 percent spending increase came when inflation growth was only 1.6 percent. Few city or town budgets have ever soared so much, so quickly.
For Signal Mountain residents, this outrageous spike in spending was just the beginning. Over the past year, general fund expenditures increased 9.2 percent. The spending hike is due to a number of examples of poorly used of tax dollars, such as nearly doubling the town's subsidy to the Mountain Arts Center from $164,533 last year to $308,649 this year.
As was the case previously when spending spiraled out of control, Lusk and Allen led the charge for burning through tax dollars this year.
Councilmember Bill Wallace, who was elected to the town council in late 2010, after most of the damage was already done as a result of Lusk and Allen's wild spending spree, has been the council's most dependable vote for responsible government. Wallace opposed the recent tax hike scheme and pledges to work to increase revenues by growing the tax base and encouraging the growth of new business, rather than through tax increases
If voter reelect Wallace and add Joe Dumas on the council, there will be enough fiscally responsible, low tax votes on the council to prevent the tax hikes and wasteful budgetary binges that Signal Mountain residents have suffered through over the past decade.
Dumas, a UTC faculty member and 20-year Signal Mountain resident, has been a grassroots voice for limited, responsible government and low taxes. Adding a taxpayer watchdog to the town council will give residents a much-needed ally to ensure that town government is mindful of how their tax dollars are spent.
At the candidate forum, when asked about their visions for Signal Mountain in five years, Lusk, Allen and Frank Preston -- a retired public school teacher and administrator who is also making a run for town council -- all spoke of ways to snag additional state and federal tax dollars so that they could spend more money on green spaces, arts and other questionable government projects. Dumas offered a different and refreshing view. He stated that he wanted to make sure taxes were low, regulations were limited and government got out of the way so that residents of Signal Mountain could create the town they wanted.
Lusk and Allen have proven themselves incapable of managing the town in a responsible way that respects taxpayers. Preston seems excited by the idea of serving on the town council, but appears to lack any guiding principles or ideas for ways to improve the town.
Although residents are voting to fill three positions on the town council, only Wallace and Dumas stand out as candidates worthy of excitement and support. Signal Mountain residents deserve a town council that doesn't ride roughshod over the budget or vote to snatch more of their hard-earned dollars. If Wallace and Dumas servetogether on the council, the days of tax increases and wasteful spending will end.
The Free Press endorses Bill Wallace and Joe Dumas for Signal Mountain Town Council.