Saturday, May 20, 2006

Democrats create budget crisis in county government

Democrats in charge of county government have gotten the budget into a real pickle. Despite warnings from the Sheriff, the Democratic majority on the County Council under funded the fuel budget for 2006, actually approving figures that were lower than the 2005 budget. Of course, fuel prices have gone up since that budget was approved.

Council president Sophia Travis defended the budget cuts, saying that the county needs to look into ways to reduce fuel consumption. This is a common rant from the local Left, especially from Greg Travis, husband of the council president. Greg Travis criticized the "Major Moves" plan on his web site by saying "we've misinvested billions in that overbuilding for the creation of an inherently unsustainable transportation mode." Travis also wrote "if we had a rational and sustainable energy policy gas would cost $5 a gallon."

Apparently, Greg Travis' ideological crusade has influenced his wife on county budgetary policy. However, whether Greg and Sophia Travis like it or not, our economy and our transportation system are based on oil and will be for the foreseeable future unless dramatic economic changes take place. County government in Monroe County, Indiana is not going to be able to change that. It is the height of irresponsibility to not recognize the reality of how much basic services like police protection are going to cost. Such Left-wing scheming should be left out of the county budgetary process.

In his article on the fuel issue, Kurt Van der Dussen wrote that Sheriff Sharp "long has challenged the council to let him put an end to take-home vehicles for deputies". First, KVD has it wrong: the County Council has no authority on these personnel matters. It is the county Commissioners who pass the county's Personnel Policy, and it was they who passed the exception to the Policy in 2004 allowing Sheriff's deputies to take their vehicles home. However, even though personal use of county vehicles is permitted under the Personnel Policy, Sharp has the authority to unilaterally order the deputies to park their cars.

If Sheriff Sharp truly believes ending personal use of county vehicles is the right thing to do, he needs to show some leadership and order the deputies to "park their cars". If the County Council wants off-duty deputies on the road for crime prevention, they need to find the money to pay for it. What the council should not do is whine that they want deputies to be able to take their cars home while simultaneously cutting the Sheriff's fuel budget.

Furthermore, Van der Dussen should know better than to make a statement in his article about the County Council allowing the Sheriff to make this change. Van der Dussen has been covering county government for a long time and he should know that the council does not have the authority over personnel issues, or over any policy issues. That is in the hands of the County Commissioners or other elected officials. KVD did a disservice to the Herald-Times readership by leading them to believe the council has any authority over this matter.

Now, Sophia Travis is telling county elected officials and department heads to prepare for a 5% budget cut in 2007. The four Democrats ignored warnings from veteran council member Marty Hawk and decided to spend down cash reserves for the 2006 budget. Then, Sheriff Sharp asked for an extra $400,000 to cover medical costs for jail inmates. At the current rate of county spending, the cash reserves will be dangerously low in December of 2007, which makes budget cuts necessary.

While there are complaints that Sharp "blindsided" both the county Auditor and the council with this request, the council should have never allowed itself to be put into this position in the first place. The cash reserves should be kept reasonably high, because you simply do not know what unexpected expenses will come forward. A more responsible and fiscally sound budgetary policy from the County Council would have allowed county government to weather the jail medical costs storm. Spending down the cash removes a necessary cushion.

The County Council is going to have to take a hard look at the budget for the 2007 fiscal year. As county Clerk Jim Fielder told the Herald-Times, county government is going to need to focus on basic necessities. The social services funds that the council increased last year should be the first place to apply the budget knife. If county government cannot cover basic needs, it should not be giving handouts to social service agencies. Essential functions of county government must not be compromised.

All in all, the Democrats have created a major crisis that will need to be resolved. Republicans need to take the "I told you so" message to the voters for the November elections. This is especially important in the Marty Hawk vs. Mark Stoops race, since Hawk has been proven right and Stoops proven wrong.