County Government is suffering from a complete message or controlled public relations meltdown it has not seen in some forty years. Back then it was over the creation and expenses associated with having a Police Department versus maintaining a State supported Sheriff's department only. Today of course, we have both.
A large piece of the County budget (non-school) is allocated for Police, Fire, EMS but even those are under fire behind closed doors moving forward. The County is backing away from new Fire station construction for example.
It begs the this question. If you could make the case for the Station years ago based on real demand for safety and to ensure said safety in a timely manner to residents exactly what has changed?
I will tell you what. The politics.
Last night witnessed about 100 or so people sign in to speak before the Board. I personally got the stinking suspicion that the fix was in for most programs and some of these members were simply going through the motions. Yet, there was no real integrity before the audience to make the case in reality for what they have planned.
I have to admit that the case being made on behalf of Parks and Recreation was honorable. The face sweeping cuts to programs in large part because they are an easy target for these politicians. They do not want to actually be forced to examine what is truly at the heart of the problem facing the County budget and that is remarkably enough the size of the County payroll. You will not get a single elected official who views themselves as simply a "politician" first to speak the truth, but the fact is the County right now has a workforce that is larger than the 8 largest private (non-public sector) companies combined today.
County Government has a payroll of just under 12,000. That is even with not filling the so-called "unfilled positions" that the County always seems to be advertising. It is thought that the County will have to cut a mere 84 full-time jobs and 61 part-time moving forward, but you very rarely get a number out the Board. Its easier to place a target on things like historic sites or Rockwoods Nature Center than to put themselves in the cross hairs by looking to release employees, even when that exactly what is required.
We got a taste of things last night.
Daniel Gecker, Chairman of the Board has not been shy in articulating widely unpopular views and making such comments as;
"There have been significant reductions in Capital Improvements that the public doesn't see"-thank you blogger Chesterfield Taxpayer.
Really Mr. Gecker? Were you not the candidate pledging full "transparency"? How transparent has this budget process been? Why are things being hidden from the public? How can you state we are a First Choice Community when we have now gone five years since the County sought to post meetings, minutes and all governmental information online? Why is it we have only taking our public meetings online and on television? Why has not all the committee sessions and budgetary process as well as audits of County services and operations been brought to light? Why has the environmental studies (all) paid for by taxpayers for the Upper Swift Creek Plan not been fully disclosed to residents?
Here is a big question that we can never get a answer on and that is why is it that the Brandermill community seems to have such a stranglehold on the Swift Creek Reservoir. This body of water belongs to taxpayers not landowners who border it. Why have they been permitted to confine access to water owned by the County at large? How can the County permit them to control access points and determine who can and cannot enter the Reservoir via such area? Open it up; it belongs to all of us. Its our drinking water resource after all.
Parks and Recreation seem to be on the chopping blocks as ironic as it is as well as the Recycling Program. Its ironic because these are things that members like Marlene Durfee and Dan Gecker pledged to better leverage via their vision of smart growth and green space. Updating our parks was a key component a mere two years ago. I guess that was when they were sitting on the required funds and looking for a means in which to spend it as opposed to returning it to taxpayers. Now, the parks and programs centered around both the young and elderly are not as vital to these members as say government jobs. Jobs which require better than average salaries and higher benefit expenses than their private sector counterparts.
There was a question of "user fees" addressed last night by the public in a few questions and to be honest it makes the most sense in lean times by having people who wish to use programs actually have to pay for them.
I personally feel that it is perfectly acceptable to ask parents such as myself to help offset the expenses for athletic programs; either in the public school system or via Parks and Recreation. I have no problem with paying fees that support Night Basketball, Softball, etc for adults. I hardly expect the County to pick up that tab for me to play. Do they pay for our American Family or Gold's Gym membership? I think not. If there is enough demand for the program it will be funded accordingly through user fees and if not than the program disappears until there is such demand. That may seem harsh but that is the reality we face when we simply cannot afford the "wants" and can only provide for the "needs".
The Schools have a bigger cross to bear regarding funding. They have allowed the expenses per student ratio to rise year after year and we now are seeing a 57% rise in costs per pupil in the last 10 years. Another irony is the fact that while costs per pupil rose 57%, the actual budget to support the system grew 81% for the same period. What does that mean? Well, the School System was allocated/budgeted some 25% more than the rise in costs. Mind you enrollment rose about 15% since 2000. The County population rose to around 300,000 and to meet these numbers the County increased the number of schools by just over 10 percent and added about 20% more teachers in the period.
The Chesterfield Taxpayer has the cost per resident for the County Budget at 1,526 before taking into consideration the School System. Throw in the Schools and you add in about another 2,500 per resident. Of course the Board would rather see drastic cuts to the Schools over the General Fund and that is what is playing out right now.
There is a vacuum of leadership right now. No one is stepping up with solutions that are not firmly rooted in the preservation of government dominance. Programs are being examined first but not the government payroll. In fact the County seems bent on doing everything possible to preserve government jobs.