The Little Rock Cannery: A microcosm of government waste
Hernando TodayThe issue: Right-sizing county government. Our opinion: County officials better start slashing budgets.
Published: June 7, 2009
Published: June 7, 2009
It's obvious after reading several county government budget stories this past week in Hernando Today that some of our county officials just don't get it.
The economy is in the Dumpster: unemployment is among the highest in the nation, foreclosures continue to climb, property value assessments have declined 12 percent and county government is facing a $10 million revenue shortfall.
Still, some county officials act like deer frozen in the headlights.
It's time to start cutting budgets and shrinking the size of government, not thinking up ways to continue the status quo or force new fees on already overburdened taxpayers struggling in this dreadful economy.
Three good examples of bad ideas: continued funding of the Little Rock Cannery and installing parking meters and charging $2 year-round entrance fees at Pine Island Beach.
The Little Rock Cannery, a quaint little building in a remote corner of Hernando County near the border with Citrus, is a microcosm of what's wrong with county government and the overspending it has burdened taxpayers with for years.
The cannery, where folks go to can fruits and vegetables, gets about $49,000 each year from the county to operate. About 80 folks pay a $10 membership fee to use the facility.
So, do the math: The county spends $612.50 per membership each year. The facility is inconvenient to most Hernando Countians and serves less than one-tenth of 1 percent of residents. Miraculously, 64 other counties in Florida manage to get by just fine without funding canneries. County government obviously can't afford to send a check for $612.50 to all 167,000 Hernando Countians to subsidize their hobbies.
A few dozen cannery supporters showed up at the budget and finance committee meeting on Tuesday to beg officials to save their cannery by continuing its annual funding. They tell commissioners they simply can't live without the cannery in this tough economy.
The finance and budget committee, which includes two county commissioners and three community leaders, voted 5-0 to recommend to the full board of county commissioners that the funding continue.
They saved the day!
Except, of course, for the 166,920 other Hernando County residents who must continue to pay for this self-serving boondoggle.
It's simply a waste of taxpayers' money to provide a hobby for 80 families, some of whom do use the cannery to make ends meet. Our suggestion would be to sell the group the canning equipment and materials to start their own club in someone's garage or a rented facility in a high-density location. They eventually could turn it into a profit-making enterprise if those kinds of services actually are needed in these tough economic times.
Yes, the Little Rock Cannery is a gem - unfortunately, one we need to pawn to pay for more necessary services that provide benefits to a far greater number of Hernando Countians.
As Spock so unselfishly pointed out to Admiral James T. Kirk in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn": "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
As for parking meters and year-round entrance fees at Pine Island, we thought the taxpayers already paid taxes to build and fund the park. Why should taxpayers pay more to use something they already pay for? If commissioners want to charge an entrance fee to those who live outside of Hernando County, that's fine. But Hernando Countians already pay for the park. They shouldn't be charged again to use it. That's just a tax increase disguised as tourism fee that simply serves to grow the bureaucracy.
Here's an idea from one of our readers: Instead of Pine Island, install parking meters around the Government Center in Brooksville. Thousands of dollars in extra revenue could be generated from county officials and employees who take up most of the spaces during the work week.
On second thought, that would be the same kind of flawed thinking as parking meters at Pine Island.
Ergo, the problem with county government: There are cannery-type boondoggles and nonsense fees hidden in every nook and cranny of the budget. From THE Bus to commissioners' salaries and benefits; from compensated absences to liquor sales at county park functions; from having five full-time county attorneys to every other constitutional officer having his or her own attorney to, worse yet, hiring outside attorneys even though we have attorneys on staff who specialize in those particular areas; from helicopters, Harleys and half-tons to 18-wheelers, Sea-Doos and speedboats.
The spending spree simply can't continue, with little wisdom shown for such gross extravagance when taxpayers are suffering. County government has to operate a lot smarter and a whole lot leaner.
When property values were skyrocketing and tax dollars were flooding county government, county officials should have been more frugal. Instead, the money kept rolling in, and they kept spending it and growing the bureaucracy. Now they are faced with painful cuts like private enterprise has been dealing with for some time. County officials are going to find out like private sector businesses how excruciating it is to leave folks high and dry without a paycheck or health insurance or, in this economy, the means to get another job.
It's not a pretty sight, but we all can't go down with the ship or there will be no one to save the others.
Government can't be all things to all people. In trying to do so, we've saddled our citizens with ever-rising taxes they cannot afford and debt that our children and grandchildren won't be able to pay.
It's time to close the cannery and cut out all other cannery-type waste.