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Voodoo economics alive and well in Edgefield County

A Column by the Editor
web posted May 22, 2008
COLUMN – “I think we’ve done a fairly good. The county is in good shape financially, we’re not in trouble there.” That is what Edgefield County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece said last Thursday night at the Democrat Party candidate forum held at Strom Thurmond. Fast forward to Chairman Kneece on Tuesday night at the County Council budget work session and we find Kneece and the rest of the county council trying to trim tens of thousands of dollars from an unbalanced budget. You do not make budget cuts if the county is in good financial shape.

The first question that comes to mind is how did we go from having an increase in expected revenues to having to cut in places that really cannot afford cuts?

And where does the Edgefield County Council look first to make cuts? Employee bonuses, employee raises, and reduction in staff in offices where rising crime rates demand the extra work. Yes, we are in fine financial shape.

Granted, rising fuel costs is something our county leaders should be concerned about and should take into account in next year’s budget, but why cut into the pockets of those who make the county government work and not the fat?

The County Council and Administrator will tell you there is no “fat” or “pork” in the budget.

Let’s take a closer look at things and see if there is any truth to that.

The first thing that comes to mind is our historical and ever so valuable county records. All county records are supposed to be kept under the control of the Probate Court. Former County Administrator Wayne Adams made sure he took control of those records from the Probate Court and they suddenly became a moneymaker for a private entity, the Tompkins Library.

Granted, I have nothing against the Tompkins Library and I think they provide a valuable service, but what belongs to the county belongs to the county.

So, some of our county records are moved to their facility and they collect fees to copy our county records. Of course, they are a private business so trying to find out how much they make off our county records is difficult.  But I believe it is fair to say they are making money off the records we, as a county, own.

To add insult to injury, we pay them in excess of $16,000 a year to make money off our records. Add in that we pay a County Archivist almost $34,000 to provide the exact same service.

I’m a businessman, and for the life of me I cannot figure out how that is a positive cash flow for the county. That would be like EdgefieldDaily.com covering the daily news and telling other news agencies to report it first and collect advertising dollars from the work product and then EdgefieldDaily.com reporting the news at a later date.

And let us not forget the wonderful self-supporting county recreation program that is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. The county had a very viable recreation program run by volunteers for years that actually made money. Suddenly when the county takes it over it is a huge money pit that is swallowing up almost $300,000 a year or more. In one year alone the county poured over a half a million dollars into Bettis Park on top of the standard costs.

With projected recreation tax and other revenues stated at $287,000 next year the county estimates recreation will make $1,500 in interest. That equates to a .0053% annual interest rate. How is that possible if the lowest estimated rates would be between 1.4% and 2% with interest revenues totaling $4,027 and $5,753? Even with an annualized accounting with depletion of funds over a period of time the rate should still be between 1% and 0.8%. A majority of the funds (over $206,000 is collected in property tax) will be “up front money”, in addition to almost $60,000 in registration fees, which is to say that the county would collect less than 2% interest for four months and lose money the rest of the year.

Furthermore, can somebody, anybody, explain to me why the concession sales for the county will only total $1,000 for the year? If that is the case it will take the county 68 years to pay off the money used for the mobile (or should we say not so mobile) concession stand at Bettis Park that was supposed to be paid for from those profits. After all, that equates to a profit for the county of less than $20 a week. The money is just rolling in.

Of course, county recreation is a want, not a need, and it remains untouchable when it comes to budget cuts. In Edgefield County - needs have to be cut when things get tight, not the wants. That is good financial planning in the eyes of our county leaders.

On the other hand, County Administrator John Pettigrew has stated that he has asked Sheriff Dobey to tell his deputies to not let their cars idle and to only go where they “have” to go. I suppose that means deputies should start work and go park their car somewhere and wait for a call, then respond.

Forget all the crimes that are prevented and criminals that are arrested (and fines that are collected by the county in return) while patrolling. No, that should come to an end. Gas is too expensive to protect the citizens. The logic, we will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars so roughly two hundred residents can let their children play T-ball while their homes are being burglarized. But, rest assured, that deputy is sitting still at some location just waiting on you to call him or her to say you have been the victim of a crime.

That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of, next to giving an inexperienced applicant for a $64,000 job a $17,000 raise over experienced and degreed qualified applicants. But who am I to judge the collective genius of our fine elected leaders?

I could go on for another 10,000 words and countless other examples, but what good would it do? The county council chambers are near empty during the meetings until tax time, and even when taxpayers show up and are rebuffed and voted against during the meetings, incumbents continue to be re-elected. 

It is as if the entire voting public is suffering from “battered wife syndrome” and will keep those abusing us in power in fear of the unknown, even if there is a far brighter future on the other side.

Wasn’t it just last year that the county council voted to cap funds in reserves at no more than four months because the money was just pouring in and now we are looking to cut basic services and employee pay?  Remember, revenues are up with the county raising assessments and the millage rate in the same year. That does not include properties that have not been added to the tax books as the expansion of Mount Vintage and other subdivisions continue to grow.

I may have fallen off the turnip truck, but it wasn’t yesterday and I did not land on my head on the way down.

I am trying to follow the county council’s priorities, but my calculator keeps telling me 2+2=4. Maybe I need new batteries or a new calculator. I wonder if Administrator Pettigrew will loan me his so I can make sense of all this.


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