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County needs to be focused when trimming costs

Taylor County is facing a budget crisis.

There is nothing new about this. It costs money to provide government services and there are always going to be those who say particular services are not needed or cost too much.

Either directly or indirectly, that money comes from taxes and fees paid by individuals and businesses in the community. Some of that tax money is assessed directly, such as with property taxes. Others are paid through sales and use taxes to the state government and are sent back to local governments through shared revenue payments.

Most people would rather keep the money they have than pay it to the government. The challenge and the ongoing “crisis” that Taylor County and other governments face is how to balance costs with the taxes they are able to collect.

This is further complicated with a maze of regulations, mandates and state laws that tell county government how to spend that money. In general, these regulations are intentionally designed so that the state legislature gets the praise for the good the services provide, while county officials get the complaints over having to pay the bill.

The challenge, as with all things, is having enough money to cover all the things that must be done as well as to do the things that should be done to make the county a better place to live and work. This is where the county’s current budget crisis comes in.

Faced with skyrocketing costs for employee healthcare, materials and the need to offer competitive wages to attract and retain employees, the county was faced with having to utilize short term borrowing for highway projects in order to make the budget work. Even though the net impact to property taxpayers in the county was negligible, the idea of needing to borrow money, even if for a few months, to meet the budget does not sit well with a number of the more fiscally conservative members of the county board.

As part of a compromise to get the county budget passed, there was a promise to form a special committee to identify $500,000 to be cut from the county budget.

There is little doubt the county can make the cuts through the elimination of personnel and, potentially, services offered. The challenge is how to minimize negative impacts while getting the most gains. Some of these are obvious, such as reorganizing departments when staff members leave in order to cut staff.

The risk is that rather than using a scalpel to trim the waste, the committee will operate with the grace of a dull axe and proposed cuts will be politically or personality motivated rather than making any real sense for the overall good of the county. At the same time, the county must work to limit the negative impacts to county employee morale and staffing efforts. The vast majority of county employees are hard working, dedicated people and should not be made to worry that their jobs are on the chopping block.

The hard reality is that major cuts must come from the largest departmental budgets in order to have any practical impact. Harassing the staff of a two or three person office on how many staples they use per week isn’t going to get the job done and will cost the county dedicated employees.

The county must also keep in mind that cutting services without cutting taxes is simply a back-door tax increase as people will pay the same and get less.

Whatever it is called, members of the budget cutting committee face a challenging time in the next few months and must maintain focus.

Members of The Star News editorial board include Publisher Carol O’Leary, General Manager Kris O’Leary and News Editor Brian Wilson.