LIBERTY — It’s no secret that the city of Liberty is facing a serious financial situation but Liberty representative and Pickens County Council Chairman Roy Costner wants calmer heads — and the city itself — to prevail.
“There’s a lot of sensationalism out there right now when it comes to the state of the city,” Costner said. “Is Liberty in bad shape? Yes. Is it doomed? No.”
According to Costner, most of the problems stemmed from poor financial management combined with a minimal millage rate.
“This has been a situation of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “That kind of thing goes on for long enough — as it has in this case — you’re going to end up in the red.”
Costner said he first became aware of how serious the issue was when the new council began going through the recreation funds to determine if some Liberty city employees could have their salaries paid through the rec fund.
“While that was going on, then we had them asking (County) if we could take over the fire department,” said Costner. “It was like, rec department or fire department? Which one is going to go? You look at things like that and you need to ask yourself: Do you save the city? Or do you save the recreation department? That’s not much of a choice.”
City Administrator Shirley Hughes was brought on to correct Liberty’s financial crunch, but her ideas have not been without controversy — eliminating the city’s curbside recycling program, for example.
“It comes down to this: If the county was to alleviate some of the city’s burden — like the fire department — it’s still going to come at a cost. The fire fees will have to be raised for homeowners. I don’t want that, I live there too, but it’s necessary.”
Costner said transparency was going to key in moving forward.
“If County takes over fire, then you can’t have the city saying they’re collecting millage for fire — it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “Call it whatever you want — call it a ‘save our city millage’ — but not fire.”
Collecting fees for one thing and then spending them on something else was part of how Liberty got into this mess to begin with, he said.
As far as the city itself unincorporating, Costner said it was a possibility — but that everything was a possibility.
“People are afraid of losing the identity of Liberty. I would say if the city was doing nothing about their situation it could happen — but they are,” Costner said. “They’re taking the steps, they’re making the changes. People like to scream that the sky is falling — and it is — kind of.
“Bottom line is they have a plan,” he said. “Now it may be a painful plan, but it’s a plan.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.