Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Our County Budget Crisis

Sorry I haven't posted in a while- took a little more downtime with the family.

So, I mentioned to someone today that I would be posting my perspective on the Knox County budget on my blog. "That's suicidal," he said. "Your opponent isn't hanging himself out there on this or any other issue- why would you go out on a limb on an issue like the budget?"

That's exactly the problem. If someone is unwilling to stick their neck out as a candidate, how do you think they're going to behave as a Commissioner? Part of the problem we're in is the unwillingness of elected (and even appointed) officials to look at 'sacred cows' in our budget and do what is necessary to bring back fiscal responsibility.

In the business world, when times are lean, you can't raise taxes, and your ability to borrow in tough times is limited. So what do you do? You learn to do more with less. But the stupidest thing I've seen companies do is a flat X% "across the board" cut of the entire organization. Divisions that are highly productive are penalized equal with lower-performing groups.

It's too late for this year, but if elected, I would start in the fall of 2008 to lay the groundwork for the 2009-2010 budget. The process would involve defining metrics for each office, measuring that office against other peer counties, and identifying which offices can absorb bigger cuts.

We also have to look at the effect of salary on our overall costs. Another truth from the business world is that if your workers are underpaid and have other opportunities they can move to, your personnel costs will rise and effectiveness falls because your best people leave, and you are stuck with the costs of having to rehire and retrain replacements. This is particularly a problem with our teachers. In some cases, a salary increase can save you money in the long run. In the more brutal approaches, you would look at what positions you are losing good people and direct resources there, away from positions that aren't seeing high turnover.

Other points:
  • I can see that some of our fees that haven't been increased over 5-10 years can be increased to obtain more revenue without hitting those on limited incomes.
  • Duplicate car allowances and county vehicles should be eliminated
  • The list of county vehicles provided should be reviewed and each vehicle must be fully justified as an necessity for the position. For positions with occasional vehicle use, the County could offer mileage reimbursement rather than provide a full time vehicle, insurance, maintenance, etc. Perhaps even excess vehicles could be sold.
Will that get us all the way there? Probably not. But we need to get a lot further down the road of fiscal discipline than we're going right now. Whether we borrow or raise taxes for the rest, we need to minimize those options (and, in the case of a tax increase, minimize the effect on those who can least afford it).

1 comment:

Logan Brummitt for County Commission Seat 4B said...

I appreciate the fact you are willing to comment on this because as we know, our county commissioners "are" afraid to stick their necks out there for fear of being written or spoken about. That is NOT what the job is about, keep it up Steve.