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Opinion

Budget Cuts Continue This year: Needs Meet Wants Head-On


A Column by the Editor
web posted February 21, 2011

COLUMN – February is almost over, and with the exception of the local Mayors, no one is really talking about how difficult a budget year our county is facing starting next month. Frankly, it is in some way understandable, the funding numbers from the state have yet to emerge. However, it doesn't take a Doctorate in Economics to know we are going to get cut again, and hard. The School District is also looking at falling millions short of their budget needs as well. It's not going to be pretty.    

As far as the County goes, there are some expectations raging between 10 to 15% in cuts just in the Aid to Subdivisions alone, otherwise known as the Local Government Funds (LGF). Since 2008 the funding cuts from the state now totals into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and is close to funding levels in the early 1990's. Additional cuts this year will have a major impact on funding county operations.

In Fiscal Year 2009-10, the county was forced to cut over $625,000 from the county budget and was still forced to dip into reserves to balance the budget. Last year those same reserves had to be tapped again to the tune of over $470,000 in a budget designed by former Chairman Monroe Kneece (D-Johnston), which included a 2% raise for employees and funding for non-governmental organizations (NGO's).
 
This year, if the county passes an identical budget, and includes the expenses added over the year, the county is going to start the budget process at well over a half a million dollars in the hole. And that is before figuring in the current expected 10 to 15% in reduced funds from the state.

To make matters worse, the Edgefield County Sheriff's Office has been disallowed in the past year from replacing any of its aging fleet of patrol vehicles that exceeded their certifiable use as "emergency response vehicles" last year, or the year before. Due to that neglect, the need is even greater this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the county has given away more money to NGO's in the past two years than it would have taken to keep the fleet of patrol vehicles up to date and operational. Last year alone NGO's received over $60,000 in funding, $43,000 of that going to Piedmont Tech alone

Rest assured, the same NGO's are already lobbying for their slice of the pie made from your taxpayer dollars - and most could care less what impact it has on county employees or the taxpayer. They just want their free money. Piedmont Tech will be back grandstanding and making their threats to close the Edgefield Campus once again if they are not given what they want. Look for that to be around $90,000 this coming fiscal year, if not more.

Actually, I look forward to seeing them try this during the coming budget debate as the impact of the budget cuts are going to go beyond cutting the county operation budget to the bone. You can cut a budget to "the bone" only as long as there is "meat on the bone" to cut. If you talk to most department heads at the county level, there is no more meat to cut. The only thing left to trim would be benefits or jobs.

I want to see anyone explain how giving money to someone who produces no income for the county is more deserving of funding over county employees jobs. You know, those who work collecting the county revenues.

And while I am at touching the fatal "third rail" of local politics, let's not leave county recreation out of the discussion. Recreation is not a need or a required function of our county government. In fact, it has been more of a used boat we bought. We keep pouring money into it to give a minority of taxpayers something to occupy the time for their children, and it has yet to produce a single dollar in positive revenues.

Dare we even breech where the revenues from the county owned concession stand at Bettis Park goes? For years not so much as a receipt from those running it and yet our county leaders just look away? We own it, we sure need to know who is making money, and how much, using our tax dollars.

Those supporters of local government (those needing the votes to get re-elected) will argue that giving children something to do will keep them off the streets and out of jail. A fallacious argument at best. I haven't seen too many 7 to 14 year olds in the arrest records and yet teenage crime (15 and up) is at a record level. In other words, how well has that worked out in reality?  

So far we have poured over $2 million into it, including hundreds of thousands into the Northside Park which is not even used for county recreation.

It is time recreation be removed from the county tax rolls and put back into the hands of the private sector, which ran it successfully for decades. In addition, give the Northside Park back to its owners. We built their own little recreational facility used only for church functions and it's time to call it quits. Be happy and walk away with the gotten gains you received through political vote buying. The total cost savings from recreation and the Northside Park would be in excess of $225,000 a year.

I have not, and never will be, a supporter of recreation being protected as a millage rate on our tax bills when it should be a simple line item at best just as every elected official's office is in the county budget.

I would much rather have a deputy on the road in a car suitable and functional than I would making sure the soccer ball little Johnny or Jane is kicking around is property inflated.  

The reality is this budget year will be one in which the rubber will meet the road like never before.






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