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As Long as We Remember...

June 10, 2010

The Majority Fools

Adam Avery

The results of the upcoming election for the Board of County Commissioners will determine the direction of Frederick County for many years to come. Despite Friends of Frederick's attempt to make this election about growth, residents should consider two pressing issues: reducing expenses by reducing the role of government and creating jobs close to home.


Growth was the prevailing issue in the past two elections. Today's economy – coupled with the inefficiencies of our local government – has made growth a non-issue this time around.


The majority of the current board, which includes Democrat spendthrifts Commissioners Kai Hagen and Jan Gardner, and the RINO Commissioner David Gray, have no one but themselves to blame for the fiscal mess that awaits the next board.


Projected budget deficits for FY2012 run from a low of $15M to a high of $34M. Fiscal Year 2013 may be even worse with shortfalls ranging from $25 to $43 million.


If our local government was managed like a private business, deep cuts would have been made in next year's budget (FY 2011); and already in motion would be a process to narrow the gap between revenue and expenses for several years into the future. Failure to do so would result in bankruptcy.


The majority of this board – prior to the placement of Commissioner Blaine Young and against the demands by Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson to make the budget discussions public – decided instead to hide in closed sessions. This act was quite ironic, especially for Commissioner Hagen, who fancies himself the inventor of governmental transparency.


I suppose their excuse for hiding was to protect county employees from public discussions of potential layoffs. This explanation will suffice for many voters, but those paying closer attention will note that the majority wouldn’t even vote on a motion by Commissioner Young to make public a quick review of the budget after the alleged sensitive topics were discussed in private. They hid behind this drummed-up excuse in order to devise an election year game plan that would make them appear thoughtful and responsible.


It didn’t work.


When they emerged, they presented the typical “election time” budget. There was no mention of a tax increase, no elimination of major programs, few meaningful reductions in program funding, 22 employee layoffs inaccurately stated as 160 plus, and the convenient (mis)use of $23 million of non-recurring revenue in order to “balance” the budget.


This jockeying of funds by stealing from one allocated purpose to fund another is merely an accounting trick that used the previous year’s fund balance, confiscated roughly $6.5 million of recordation tax, and shifted to the general fund over $4 million of responsibilities to fire and rescue.


The tragic result, among others, is a looming fire tax deficit of $9 million in FY2012 and $17 million in FY2013.


Amazingly, the majority of the board considers “balanced” a budget that added an additional $26 million to the running debt of unfunded long-term retiree benefit liabilities – an amount nearing $200 million.


If this majority was charged with leading a private business, they would have been canned two weeks into their term.


Most public spendthrifts turn to one method for bridging budget gaps: increasing revenue by raising taxes and user fees.


A new board could think outside the box and work to lower taxes and fees. They could also push for more productivity from existing assets.


Our local governments should lower the taxes charged to small businesses and streamline the burdensome and costly regulation that hamstrings business.


The commissioners should court businesses of all sizes, whether they are established or a start up. The new board should immediately do what they can to drastically reduce taxes, fees, and regulations on all businesses.


The effect of a new business-friendly attitude with fewer hurdles to clear would precipitate investment in local human resources (creating jobs close to home) and reduce the costs of goods/services sold.


The former increases the size of the tax pie by having more workers contributing to the tax base. The latter reduces the cost (tax) to consumers. The now working consumer will either invest his delta of savings, or newfound paycheck, into the purchase of additional goods and services (closer to home), reduce his personal debt, increase charitable contributions, or invest in one of many financial vehicles.


This increase in consumer activity would create more jobs (closer to home), growing the tax base further.


If Democrat Commissioners Hagen and Gardner, and RINO Commissioner Gray are re-elected, they will undoubtedly raise taxes and fees as a first order of business. Their second order of business will be to spend every dollar collected.


This can be avoided by electing new commissioners with experience operating private, for-profit businesses.


This board made public a budgetary PowerPoint presentation. One frame caught my attention. It read, “We are doing less with less.” That type of attitude speaks volumes to the leadership void.


Dynamic leadership would have read, “We will win or lose as a team. We are going to encourage each other to perform at a higher level and rely on each other to accomplish much more with much less.”


It is time for fresh ideas from energetic, business savvy candidates who are willing to incur an opportunity cost in return for the honor of serving their community. No longer can we rely on the status quo of current board members, career politicians, or retreads, who have already burdened our county with their previous leadership failures.


The upcoming election for commissioner is a choice between big government and growing deficits, or smaller government and reliance on the private sector and charitable organizations to mitigate the mess created by this current board.


Fortunately, each of us can choose which direction to head by the power of our votes.


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