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Current Budget Musings
January 16, 2009

The Coons Administration and County Council keep telling taxpayers what a bargain county taxes are. One reason taxes appear to be low is that in the mid 80’s the county created the requirement that new sub-divisions be required to establish Maintenance Corporations and cost shifted to them the cost and responsibility for parks and stormwater management structures (retention basins). Those costs often exceed what the residents pay in taxes but they don’t get any credit for providing a local service function as do municipalities. That’s double taxation. Mandating that Maintenance Corporations assume responsibility for complex systems with volunteers who are generally ill equipped to handle them is irresponsible.

In a campaign promise, County Executive Coons pledged no increase in taxes. Shortly after elections however, he funded a study that showed 75% of the budget was comprised of employee costs. These which in turn on average 13% above regional private pay scales. Additionally, benefits were about 40% of pay which was noted to be far more generous than the State employees receive. Prior to submitting his first budget, he prevailed on Council to repeal the 10% cap on tax increases which was created to inject fiscal discipline into the budget process. The result was a 17% increase in taxes. So much for his campaign promise of no increase in taxes. No wonder taxpayers are skeptical of future promises. He has made very little progress in negotiating union concessions and that they must face mandatory reductions in employee compensation and benefits which is being done in other parts of the country or risk bankruptcy as some other jurisdictions have had to face. While S& P and Moodys have given the county a top A+++ bond rating, they are the same rating agencies that gave toxic assets the same rating and a short time later re-rated those securities to junk. Fitch, the third rating company has put the County on watch due to the rapid draw down of the county surplus.

Now is a bad time for the County to attempt to implement their social engineering agenda of low cost housing for which the ordinance fiscal note predicts a $300,000 cost. The program has been so well received by developers that the cost could easily double or triple. Incidentally, I attended the earlier budget informational meetings where suggestions were made regarding the private use of county vehicles and the abolition of the mounted police were suggested only to be met with disdain as not worthy of review but now make good PR fodder. Similarly, Land Use has spent $49,000 on a flawed Smart Growth ordinance which addressed a solution seeking a problem.

It may be good to recall, in 2004 the legislature voted to repeal the process which would have added 6 new council members at a cost of $1 million. Although the existing council passed a unanimous resolution saying the expansion was unnecessary, the heavy lifting in the legislature was left to myself and several others who recognized this would be an unfunded state mandate of little taxpayer benefit. The County Executive’s union bargaining group allowed county holidays to be tied to state days which added $500,000 to unexpected county costs. County bargainers should now require that the County’s pay scales and benefit should merely mirror – and certainly not exceed – state pay and benefits.

Fritz Griesinger,
Community Advocate

 


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