Riding the Pines

After much push and pull and multiple motions ( and I do mean multiple) the budget document is finally ready for public consumption. Actually, considering the difficulty getting a motion to fly, it is a testament to all those involved that the process ended ahead of schedule. The view from the cheap seats is fine but it puts some wear on the old back when you spend hour upon hour riding the pines. Not to mention, it is a little tough to hear with all the grumbling stomachs and twisting in the seats. To say that I am relieved that it is over would be an understatement. Do I agree with everything the Budget Committee elected to include or not include in the proposed budget document? Of course not and that was the theme for the budget cycle. Most of them did not agree on what course to take.

The newbies on the committee were largely more generous with County funds when it came to items like non profits. But, only one committee member was willing to take the hard line when it came to non profit funding. Commissioner Dockery made the case, at several points during the budget process, that he could not in good conscious even consider raising taxes if the budget includes donations to non profits. Only one non profit that isn’t considered an arm of the government was on the table for funding and that was the Boys and Girls Club. In the current fiscal year they are receiving $80,000 of tax payer funding. Dockery said that, while he appreciates what the club does for children, other charities that were equally beneficial were cut in previous budget cycles. Dockery wanted to cut all non profits with the exception of CARE ( animal control), Fire and Rescue and the Chamber of Commerce ( paid from hotel/motel tax) citing those as carrying out functions that are closely tied to the government. His reasoning was that tax payers should be able to decide how much and to who they donate their money without government interference. He made a good case and you could see the uncomfortable look on the faces around the table but no one ( despite some agreeing on principal) was willing to cut the Boys and Girls Club but Dockery. For my two cents, I agree with him. Lots of charities do lots of good things. Why does the government get to decide where my charitable contributions go? Fire, animal control and Rescue Squad are all safety related services that are expected by the citizenship. Beyond that, l say let the individual decide if , what and to who they donate.

In the end, tax rate was raised by 5 cents and more than $400,000 is coming from our fund balance to balance the fiscal year 2019/2020 budget. The tax increase has been looming for years. I would have probably gone six cents and a little over $300,000 from fund balance but I won’t quibble with a penny. We have a more than healthy reserve fund from hospital lease money which has grown to over $7 million dollars. I personally would like to see some of that money go for something beneficial to Jefferson County residents. That is contrary to the desire of much of the budget committee and the finance office who cite bond ratings as a reason to leave the account alone. I would counter that our bond rating was good with four million in the account and we are shedding debt so that should also help with the rating. Using some, not all, of the funds for the benefit of the County is in the best interest of the citizens, in my opinion. Others don’t agree and we will just have to agree to disagree.

I really don’t think that this is a budget that anyone will really hate and I don’t think that anyone is really gonna love it either. It got the job done and that may be all that can be asked of the County and Schools. After all, it started out deep in the million plus deficit and we all know how hard it is to crawl out of the red. It consumes everything like quicksand.

I give this budget process a one and a half thumbs up. It started out rough and the learning curve was steep for some. Multiple motions dying for lack of a 2nd or starving to death for lack of feed back and votes make me antsy. But, I don’t hate the outcome and I appreciate the willingness to work. Maybe next budget season we can start closer to where we ended up this year without all the blank stares and fan fare. The newbies won’t be so new and the old dogs may have some new tricks. That and maybe a pizza would be a great way to start the next budget season-which, if you are counting, is only nine months away.

Source: Kristen Depew