Everybody hates numbers, especially when they are large and represent money you don’t have. But readers, pay close attention to this re-telling of our county’s attempts at trimming the budget thus far:
In September, 2012 the commissioner was seeking a 9 percent property tax increase that would have generated a little over $650,000 in extra money for the county. But bowing to public pressure, Commission Chairman Robert Jones (with the pledged cooperation of all the elected officials), cut the tax increase back to 4.5 percent.
Commissioner Jones and the other elected officials said they would make up the $650,000 shortfall in the county budget using $328,347 in additional taxes from the 4.5 percent increase and then make cuts or find other revenues to cover the remaining $322,000.
Sounds like a plan. But, when the 2013 budget was released a few weeks later, the pledged cuts hadn’t materialized and the budget had actually grown by 2.48 percent or $483,837.
The county’s new CFO explained that this seeming reverse resulted from inaccurate budget figures used by the previous CFO and the increase in the budget came from new revenue and would not require any additional taxes. To her credit, having an accurate picture is essential to getting a handle on this mess. The commissioner was emphatic in adopting the budget that while it was up, they were trimming spending that comes from taxes.
Now, let’s jump to January 2013, the recently installed three person commission in their very first meeting, pledges to cut $1 million from the $19.9 million because the county is left with no other choice but to cut back.
The county is not facing any immediate financial cliff but the fund balance reserves are drying up and cuts are needed by the end of this month to be effective.
So to summarize, the county had $650,000 in budget cuts/new revenue needs in September of last year. Instead of making any cuts, they added $483,837 to the budget for 2013 and now we need $1 million in cuts to be made quickly.
It doesn’t take a financial analysis or audit to see that we have gone in the wrong direction since September when the officials pledged to get serious about cutting.
We’ll say no more in our words. This is from the open letter that the meeting of all the elected officials produced and was presented through Commissioner Jones last September:
“County spending will change next year. You asked for it to be decreased and it will be decreased. County services will not be at it current level next year because cuts will be made. My understanding from the comments made to me over the past few weeks are that we are willing to spend a little more time in line to pay our property taxes and we are willing to wait a few more days for a building inspector if that means our property taxes don’t increase. I and the rest of your elected officials will make those cuts and we will make them as a team.”
– Page 14A, September 13th, 2012, Pickens Progress