Thursday, June 24, 2010

Into austerity

There is no free lunch

Cuts to services provided by Goochland County for its citizens will impact our daily lives as the new fiscal year begins on July 1. Many were detailed in the county newsletter that arrived in last week’s mail.

The newsletter itself will be a casualty of austerity. Printing and distributing the publication is an expensive and cumbersome process. Although the newsletter is sent to every home in Goochland, it would be interesting to know how many people actually read it and use the information it contains.

Following a budget process that was instructive and painful, the board of supervisors declined to increase the real estate tax rate. This provided most property owners whose real estate assessment decreased — some values actually increased— with lower tax bills.

In turn, the county collected less money and cut its budget accordingly.

Now is a good time to decide which services local government should provide for its citizens. Law enforcement and fire-rescue should come first followed by social services and education.

The school board needs to understand that it must begin to operated in a far more transparent manner to gain citizen support. Funding education is a complicated matter.
Taxpayers want to know how their money is spent and feel confident that it is being used wisely. Lumping salaries and benefits for several hundred employees into one multi-million dollar line item and refusing to justify the existence of positions is no longer acceptable practice.

Revelations of dismal fiscal management practices in county government further complicated matters.

To rectify that problem, our new county administrator Rebecca T. Dickson hired, with the approval of the supervisors, a deputy county administrator to oversee financial matters.

This added more than $100,000 of payroll costs to the county’s budget at a time when jobs were being eliminated. The county must get its financial house in order to go forward. According to the recently completed county audit, there was no one on county staff with the skill set to oversee our finances, a costly error. We cannot afford to continue down this path.

The next few years will be very lean. We simply cannot afford frills like fireworks on the Fourth of July. They will be held in 2010 because the county made a non refundable deposit on the event. Given the lackluster attendance at the Spring Festival in May, perhaps those events should also be eliminated for the time being.

Churches, civic groups and activities like the Farmers Market provide community events without taxpayer support.

Lean times make it clear that someone pays for the services we enjoy. Folks in the east end mourn the end of curbside recycling funded by the county. Why should tax dollars collected from everyone fund a service available to only a few residents?

When revenues fall, someone always wants to hit up the rich people in the county to make up the difference. Why should they pay?

The county’s affluent citizens tend to live in highly valued homes, and pay tax on every penny of that value. They tend not to send their children to public schools, saving the county around $10,000 per child.

At the other extreme are farmers and those with large tracts of property taxed at land use rates by the acre. These folks often send their kids to county schools. Are they paying their fair share?

The Fairgrounds Building is a casualty of austerity. It will be torn down later this year because its upkeep costs more than it generates in fees. People like to use the building because it’s centrally located, cheap to rent and is one of the few places in the county where a liquor license may be obtained for events. Is this a valid use of tax dollars?

Some people believe that the county should not be spending money on athletic fields and parks. Does a rural county with lots of open space need public parks and athletic facilities?

Goochland is not a homogenous community. Some of our citizens live in affluent splendor, others in squalor, most of us are somewhere in between.

So what do we really need to provide in the way of government services and who pays?

Shorter library hours will make it harder for people without other internet access to find jobs.

Restrictions in the Sheriff’s budget will complicate the manner in which our outstanding law enforcement officers protect our citizens. Cuts to the fire-rescue budget make our dedicated volunteers more valuable than ever. (Call 556-5304 to sign up.)

Will reductions in Parks and Rec programs result in an increase in juvenile crime? If so, why do we as a society tolerate undisciplined young people? Who pays for that?

We are quick to complain and slow to comprehend the complexities delivery of local government services.

Tax dollars must be spent wisely, but at the end of the day, there is no free lunch. Pay up or do without.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of transparency, any idea why the job of Director of Finance and Operations for GCPS is now on the Opportunities for Employment page? Hmmm....