County to freeze tax rate – D’s complain

The latest to come from the financial committee is a proposal to freeze the county tax rate at 2011 levels for the next year.

The concept rests on two hooks: Eliminating a $960,000 deficit, nearly half of that by delaying new hires; and using $7.5 million from the county’s cash reserves.Deputy Freeholder Director Thomas Sheppard outlined the proposal at Tuesday night’s board meeting, presenting it as the latest thinking to come out of Finance Committee discussions. He is the chairman of that committee and supports the proposal.

The Democrats seems to be calling for a tax increase, claiming that they have to increase taxes now because otherwise they might have to increase taxes later. It seems they will use any excuse to raise taxes on the struggling families in the poorest county in the state.

Tony Surace used the dubious argument that the Freeholders were taking too much from the surplus to balance the budget, conveniently forgetting that his party did the same on previous budgets (usually during an election year when Lou Magazzu had stakes).

If the surplus was being raided and there was no replenishment to be seen in the immediate future, I might be inclined to agree to not touch that large a chunk. However, the surplus is NOT county money. It belongs rightfully to the taxpayers. Under control of the CCDO, the county hoarded almost $20 MILLION, and rather than tap into that surplus would choose instead to increase spending and taxes. That is a grievous wrong,  but hopefully now more people are keeping a watchful eye on the freeholder board so that that sort of nonsense ends.

The county must maintain a modest surplus to guarantee proper bond ratings and for unforeseen emergencies (such as bridges being washed away in floods). But for an elected official to claim that they will have to increase taxes substantially in the future if they are not allowed to raise them now is unconscionable when so many families are struggling. I suppose when you are living on a healthy pension and get taxpayer funded healthcare, you can lose sight of the big picture.

Carol Musso continues to warn that the county might have to reduce services to meet future budgets. However, she is speaking as if this is a bad thing. Families have had to curtail entertainment as they struggle to pay mortgages. House after foreclosed house line the neighborhoods of every city in the county. Every city has reduced spending, laid off staff including law enforcement, and eliminated programs so as to not further burden the over-stressed taxpayers. It seems that only the county feels it has no impelling reason to look for areas to reduce spending.

Just as every household (other than those that collect public pensions and enjoy publicly funded healthcare and public paychecks) has had to cut back, I am certain that every department in the county would be able to continue to function even if they were forced to reduce their budgets by 10%. The problem is, you don’t ask them if they can do it – bureaucrats will always offer compelling arguments about how critical their operations are. You yank the money, and tell them to make do. It is amazing how quickly they will adapt.

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2 Responses to County to freeze tax rate – D’s complain

  1. Dean Hawk says:

    ” I am certain that every department in the county would be able to continue to function even if they were forced to reduce their budgets by 10%. The problem is, you don’t ask them if they can do it – bureaucrats will always offer compelling arguments about how critical their operations are. You yank the money, and tell them to make do. It is amazing how quickly they will adapt.”

    This way of thinking is sounding great and simplistic. What does the department do if they are strapped with the union contracts that were agreed upon 5 and 6 years ago? Just about every union got at least 20 to 25% increases during that contract. They also got automatic “step” increases just for breathing. They also got, and, in too many cases, abused their 15 days of sick leave that was available on January 1 of each year. And is it fair to mention their “longevity bonus” paid to each county employee at the beginning of each year? Last year the total longevity payout was just about $288,000. We, the taxpayers, were sold down the river during those negotiations and, thanks to the miracle of compound growth, we will pay, and pay, and pay.
    I do not blame the unions. That is their job and they did it well. Maybe we should hire their negotiators so we can have a chance to leave the room with our underwear still on.
    Those in charge when those union contracts were agreed upon have done a great deal of damage to our county and us taxpayers.
    All of these union contracts are being re-negotiated as I type. I have stressed at every chance the fact that we can not do it like that again.
    I have been told our current Freeholders are well aware of the past problems and it will not happen again.
    As I stated at one of the Freeholder meetings, it seems like it is time to look very hard at contracting work out. Perhaps some people will realize they are not indispensible.
    What was the price of that bridge again?
    As contracts become public I will be requesting copies so we can , hopefully, stay on top of that situation.

  2. WuLi says:

    Dean, as always you hit the nail right on the head. And, yes, my “solution” is simplistic. We cannot go back in time and renegotiate contracts that were written in spite of the fact that they were not in the interest of taxpayers. In fact, in no public contract does the public have anyone to lobby for our best interest. Our elected Freeholders have that responsibility, but when the unions line their campaign coffers, our interests are laid to the wayside.

    The only solution, as cold-hearted as it might sound, is too begin reducing staff to make that 5 or 10% reduction. If the unions truly want to lobby for the best interests of the public employees, then perhaps they will be amenable to renegotiating the contracts in a manner that represents the interests of the taxpaying (but not publicly employed) public.

    As every privately employed citizen has seen benefits and py adversely affected by economic factors, no public contract should EVER be written in such a manner as to ignore economic indicators.

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