By Emily Lewy
The 2nd Public Hearing on the Budget was held at 9:00 AM on Monday morning. To my surprise a number of folks actually showed up at that time to speak out against a tax increase. As in the first Public Hearing, the people did not hesitate to make recommendations for cuts. They clearly expect government employees to share their pain during this recession and they fear the economy will be even worse next year.
I told the commissioners that I appreciate how difficult it is for them to recommend specific cuts in the various departments when none of them had attended the county manager’s individual budget meetings with department heads. I pointed out that those meetings would have given them insight into how the departments operate and where cuts might still be made. I, also, suggested that this would be good time to consider eliminating some government activities.
Chairman Raber responded that the enabling legislation leaves all decisions about government operations to the county manager. He seems to think that attending the county manager’s individual budget meetings with department heads would constitute interfering with the way the county manager runs the government operations. He doesn’t consider it a commissioner’s job to spend time listening to department heads. He pointed out that commissioners are only part time and are not paid enough to do that.
My statement about eliminating some government activities was ignored. I highly recommend the last Public Hearing on Thursday, July 15 at 5:00 PM just before the monthly Commission Meeting. It will be worth your time.
The following is from my notes taken during the Public Hearing:
The session began with a gentleman asking, “Do you start from a “0” based budget?” The answer from Finance Dept. representative Mark French was, “No.” The gentleman pointed out that his experience in business and the military had led him to appreciate the importance of examining every line in the budget.
French explained that the budget has decreased over the last several years. Commissioner Scott stated that the proposed property tax increase would only amount to $10 for a $300,000 house.
Frank Gilkerson, a candidate for 4th District Commission seat, passed out his own information sheet on the budget. He has set up a website: www.FixLCBudget.com. He wants taxpayers to go to the site, review the budget and make recommendations for cuts that can be presented at the final Public Hearing.
John Tomkins asked about predictions for future years budgets. Chairman Raber said, “You are asking a question that no one can answer.”
Lori Hackinson insisted that since budget cuts can be expected to be needed again next year, why not fix the budget (start making more cuts instead of increasing taxes) now? She insisted that there is room to make more cuts citing road crews who stand around talking instead of working and employees who spend time doing personal business while the public waits.
Chairman Raber bellowed out at her, “This is not a forum to lash out at county employees! When there is an ice storm, these employees are out in the middle of the night working!”
Commissioner Bowden reminded the Chairman in a point of order that the purpose of a Public Hearing is to listen to the public, not to challenge the speaker.
Hackinson continued, “I believe you need to consider furlough days. That is what private employers have to do.”
Commissioner Stowers said he opposesd furlough days at the beginning of the budget because they might be needed later in the year to make ends meet.
Hackinson then suggested letting departments cut out those things that volunteers can do. She added that in tough times Park & Rec can be run by volunteers.
Chairman Raber said, “If we make any more cuts, we will have to cut public safety.”
Commissioner Stowers added, “According to the YMCA, we have the best Park and Rec anywhere around.”
Human Services Director Fran Sullens pointed out that a number of positions had been eliminated from county government, there had been no salary increases for four years and the insurance deductibles had been increased to $400.
Hackinson who was still standing at the podium, responded that she has to have a $5000 deductible in order to afford any insurance at all.
Tax Commissioner Rachel Pruitt assured the audience that all excess expenses had been cut from her department.
Then Raber was going again, “We bust our buns working for you! I’ve been chosen to be State Wrestling Championship Chair this year. Everything is an open book. We can’t hide anything.”
Jim Neal said, “You are the last line against this thing. Many of us are fighting to keep what we have. I don’t like to see cuts but we need to use cuts everywhere except fire and police that are essential (services).”