First, it is a sad commentary when a county has been so poorly managed for decades that it finds itself in a fiscal crisis so bad that the arts and culture are targeted for massive cuts and obliteration. Shuttering opportunities for education and culture are exactly opposite what needs to be done, if one ones to create an environment that is amenable for economic growth. When these sorts of options are considered, it means that the leadership has given up hope on the community.
We have a county college crying the blues that attendance is down, and going through motions pretending that they are seeking a fix. However, it is apparent that they are not truly seeking a fix, as they are raising tuition at the height of a recession. And we have a county library chiming in with harmony, claiming they are underfunded.
The library, this year, under threat of closure is seeking to incorporate the CLUES system with an online system currently in use by Gloucester and Salem counties. Now the budget shortfall is nothing new. It was slashed last year, and even if the library remains open, the budget will suffer yet another shortfall. So my question is this: why wasn’t the possibility of merging the online systems with Gloucester and Salem counties as a major cost-cutting move explored previously? Did the people that operate the library believe that they could bully the freeholders year after year to save their jobs?
Don’t get me wrong – I believe that shuttering any cultural institution sends the wrong message, especially in a county were it is critical that we attract entrepreneurs and new business. If the freeholders do not believe in this county, then it will be difficult to persuade new business to buy in. But, the people that make the decisions at the library need to get their heads out of their collective bureaucratic butts and start thinking like business-people. The money is just not there, and if it comes to choosing between raising taxes AGAIN, or cutting corners here and there, the majority of county taxpayers will say cut back on spending. Nobody wants to see their pet project cut, but that is no excuse for careless accounting and profligate spending simply because you think your department is a sacred cow. No cow is that sacred in a time of recession, when the county boasts the highest unemployment rates and poverty levels to match.