Forum Watch Editorial
By. Neil Williamson
Crisis may be the most overused word in today’s lexicon. While the financial situation on a local, regional, national and international level is dire and troubling, too many of us hear the word crisis and only think of the challenges this word represents.
One man who knew a great deal about crisis management, President John F. Kennedy said:
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
On Monday (2/23), The Daily Progress ran a front page story by Scott Shenk outlining Albemarle County Police Department’s cut of $2,164 in a departmental budget of $12.578 million dollars. While the story indicated an organizational understanding of Albemarle County’s fiscal position, The department highlighted the impact of the proposed cut:
“There’s no new initiatives,” said Lt. Todd Hopwood. “And there’s no new positions. … We’ve cut back a lot of our positions.” The tight budget also affects training — to the point, Hopwood said, that the department is “counting bullets.”
These dark economic times are hitting local governments all over the Commonwealth. According to the Washington Post Fairfax County leaders are seeking to close a $650 Million dollar hole in their $3.2 Billion dollar budget. Fairfax, with a population of over 1 million residents, announced their proposed budget yesterday. The Washington Post has the story:
The loss of property tax revenue prompted Fairfax officials to propose a hefty binder’s worth of cuts, a 13.5-cent property tax increase and the elimination of more than 800 jobs…..
Early on in this budget cycle, I was speaking with a high level local government official regarding the challenging budget year ahead. This official perhaps captured the spirit of President Kennedy’s quote. Rather than speaking of the challenges ahead, this official said,
The economic crisis is allowing, perhaps requiring, us to bring forward innovative concepts, radical reorganization organizational plans and cost cutting ideas that would have been rejected as non starters in other, more generous budget cycles
To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum never weighs in regarding an appropriate tax rate or appropriate government spending rate for any locality. We do track and report locality spending in our quantitative Local Government Spending Index (LGSI) but we make no qualitative assessment of local government spending.
With that disclaimer, we believe that all localities should work harder to add sunlight to their budget processes. As one who has sat through hours of budget workshops in a multitude of localities, the work can be most tedious.
It would be most helpful for the public to have a firm understanding of the philosophy of each of the decision makers as they examine the spending proposals. Then, the public can better understand the context under which the decisions being made.
The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the many town hall meetings scheduled in some of the localities. Such meetings will promote transparency and minimize misunderstanding.
When a publicly funded budget is vetted in the glare of citizen sunlight, the result will be a budget that addresses both the danger and the opportunities this current crisis presents.