It’s a daunting challenge. New board of commissioners chairman Hunter Bicknell and new board member Chas Hardy are taking office at one of the most difficult moments in the history of local government.
At the top of the list of problems is finance. Revenues to the county government in 2009 will likely be dismal. Sales taxes are down; fees are down; permits are down.
On top of that, a revolution against property taxes is brewing. Some state officials say they will cap the increase in assessments. In addition, property owners are up-in-arms over paying taxes on property that they believe is over-valued in today’s economic downturn. A lot of property owners will no doubt petition the county for lower assessments on their property, a move that has the potential to push the county’s tax digest downward for the first time since the Great Depression. (One offset could be that some industries are now coming onto the tax books that had been at discounted rates.)
On the other end of the equation, county expenses are rising. During the boom era, county leaders committed to a number of large projects and bond debt; now those payments are starting to come due at the same time revenues are flat.
In addition, the county, like most governments, has been slow to respond to the economic crisis. During the boom years, government pay and benefits ballooned, making government employees higher paid than many of their private market counterparts. Now, officials are reluctant to cut those benefits, salaries or staff numbers. Local government bureaucracy is in “protect our staff” mode, resistant to change.
The result of all this is tremendous internal pressure on county leaders to maintain the status quo and even to raise taxes if necessary to pay for it while at the same time taxpayers are demanding that government make cutbacks.
It’s a tough time to be taking office in local government. Back when times were booming and money was flowing into the county at double-digit rates, it was a little easier to govern. Now, during difficult times, it will be much, much more of a challenge.
Not only strong people are needed to lead, but progressive ones as well - those that are not afraid to think outward and be willing to be martyred for it. Keep the backwards conservatives, like Robert Carroll, at home because they are stuck in a time warp.
When Mr. Bicknell and Mr.Hardy decided to run for Office they knew where things were going. At least I hope they did. If they didn't then we are in serious trouble. It pi_____'s me off when Politicians get in office and then start making excuses and claiming things are hard. They should know what they are getting into before they Run for office. I'm sure our two new Commissioners will step up to the plate and do the right things.