Back in October, I noted that many Johnson City residents mistakenly ignore county elections. I recalled asking a friend a few years before how she planned to vote in a county wheel tax referendum.
“Oh, I can’t vote,” she told me. “I live in Johnson City.”
I explained to her it was a county-wide referendum and she, too, was a citizen of Washington County and as such was quite eligible to vote on the issue. That’s also true of elections for courthouse offices.
If you are an uninterested Johnson City resident and you’ve missed it, I’d like to point out that early voting has begun for the May 6 Republican Primary for a number of contested offices in Washington County. And yes, registered voters in Johnson City are eligible to participate in this election.
As I pointed out in a column last week, this election is where many county races actually will be decided. If there are no Democratic or independent candidates qualified to run for these offices on the Aug. 7 county general ballot, then the outcome of these races is determined in the GOP Primary.
That’s the case with the May 6 primary for Washington County mayor and sheriff. The Republican nominee in both these races will have no opponent on the August ballot.
So what’s at stake for Johnson City residents in the county election? A lot. That’s why city residents should be taking note of how and where their county property tax dollars are being spent. (Remember, you are paying a county rate of $1.91 per every $100 of assessed value.) City residents should also be paying close attention to the elected officials who are in charge of managing those tax dollars.
A question I’ve heard quite frequently over the years from Johnson City residents has been: What do I get from my tax dollars? Again, quite a lot. While the sheriff doesn’t answer routine law enforcement calls in the city, the sheriff is responsible for operating the jail. And that’s quite a big operation. The sheriff’s office also serves criminal and civil warrants and other court papers inside the city.
Johnson City schools receive a sizeable portion of your county taxes, with 39 percent of the city system’s debt service covered by those dollars. County tax dollars account for half the annual funding for animal control and Emergency 911 operations. The county pays 94 percent of the cost to operate the Health Department and 72 percent of the annual budget for Washington County/Johnson City Emergency Medical Services.
Your county tax dollars fund the county’s Sessions Court operations. And you, my dear city resident, also fund a number of other important courthouse offices with your tax dollars. They include the county clerk’s office (where you get your tags and marriage licenses), the register of deeds office (where property deeds and property transfers are kept) and the trustee’s office (where you get your county tax bills).
Knowing all that, it’s a mystery to me why so many Johnson City residents decline to vote in county elections. It’s your county, too, Johnson City resident. It’s time to get involved. Early voting for the May 6 primary ends May 1.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.