Time has run out to cut bloated county government
Published: May 1, 2010
Published: May 1, 2010
Time has run out for county officials to face the financial piper.
Even after funneling $6.25 million in reserve funds, impact fee money and library funds to prop up next year's general fund budget, the county will still be $8.27 million in the hole at current expense levels.
Expenses will exceed revenues - plus all reserves - by 2012.
In other words, the county will be broke.
It didn't take a crystal ball to know this day was coming. The writing has been on the wall for more than two years.
This newspaper and other community leaders have been shouting, begging county officials to cut the bloated bureaucracy.
When county government spending climbs nearly 40 percent in four years, from $95.42 million in 2005 to $133 million in 2008, somebody should have put the breaks on this runaway gravy train.
That's a $37.65 million hike in four years. Even next year's "dire straits" projected budget is 8 percent higher - nearly $8 million more - than in 2005.
Salaries and benefits are out of control. When someone does leave a county government position, whether by their own decision or for myriad reasons of poor performance, they walk away with a big bag of money they call PTO (paid time off). It consists of vacation and sick time that wasn't taken during the employee's tenure and banked. When the employee leaves - on good or bad terms - the time is paid at the employee's highest salary.
Wonder who kept track of that program? Why does it still exist?
From the dredge and the contaminated department of public works site to the widening of Elgin Boulevard and Sunshine Grove Road, important projects for our community have taken years longer to complete than expected and cost millions more than anticipated.
Now we find out that the jail has been neglected and requires more than $2 million in repairs and deferred maintenance - despite having a county employee who makes more than $64,000 a year to keep tabs on jail issues.
How could our county government officials let this quagmire of government ineptness continue for so long?
Even when the bottom of the housing market had fallen out by late 2007, county government continued to spend wildly. When properties valued at $300,000 were suddenly worth only $200,000 or less, didn't county officials realize property tax revenues would eventually drop accordingly? With thousands of foreclosures and abandoned homes littering neighborhoods across the county, why didn't our elected officials heed the obvious warnings?
Why didn't our county commissioners follow the advice and plan of County Administrator David Hamilton during the last budget season? On the job for only two years, Hamilton quickly figured out where to cut the fat in county government. While Hamilton has been able to effectively cut as much as possible, his plan last budget season would have the county in much better shape than it faces today.
Commissioners simply wouldn't go along with it. They protected their sacred cows at the taxpayers' expense. Now those cows will have to go to slaughter anyway - unless commissioners dig deeper into reserves, which will leave the county broke even sooner, or raise taxes.
Raising property taxes on a populace that has been hammered by the bad economy here would be like spitting in taxpayers' faces.
So there are no more excuses, no more waiting, no more finagling the numbers and hiding bags of money and finding them later.
It's show time - time for our county commissioners to make the tough decisions they've put off for far too long.
If county officials had used a scalpel to cut county government during the past three years, they wouldn't need a chainsaw to do it today. Our reserves wouldn't be depleted to prop up a bureaucracy that can't finish a host of community projects, and proceeds from the one-time cash cow (taxpayers) would be intact.
Well, those days are gone. Now, it's a desperate and dire situation that county officials can no longer ignore.
We suggest county commissioners listen and move full steam ahead with their administrator's cost cutting plans. To his credit, Hamilton has persevered despite handicaps commissioners have placed on him.
Why have commissioners been so eager to use our meager reserves and so reluctant to cut operating expenses? We should focus on cutting expenses that are not going to reduce essential services to residents. We need to decrease expenses rather than use up our reserves.
It's tough decision time.