Cutting county personnel and services or raising taxes were the two main points dividing our board of elected commissioners on their path to reach a budgetary equilibrium. So if not tax, what other revenue streams can be explored? And if not personnel, what other cuts can be made? The commissioners have said what they won’t do, so then what are the alternatives? The question that needs to be answered is do citizens and businesses of Newton County want to have the board obligate us to a higher millage rate or do roughly 50 people, non-essential services and district projects need to be eliminated? Most governments are cutting people and forcing furloughs. Perhaps there is a more utilitarian solution that will allow us to arrive at a balanced budget.
There are those who will contend that the county is in this mess due to fiscal irresponsibility and haphazard spending. While these factors may bear part of the blame, the county was caught by the receding tide of home and property values and historically high rates of personal indebtedness, unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. These factors swung our county from enjoying a budget surplus to facing an $8.6 million deficit.
We were disappointed that the commission overall did not work together to craft a creative solution to our problem. The lack of working together on these difficult decisions has left the citizens of Newton County without a budget and forces the commission to make a decision at the 11th hour, the final day by law before the budget has to be submitted and approved. While it is easy to say we are not going to raise the millage rate or we are not going to eliminate any personal or services, both positions seem extreme under these circumstances and do not give the citizens of Newton County a solution to this looming problem.
During these seven days before the vote must be made, we hope that the commissioners take the time to do their homework and come prepared to make the hard decisions that need to be made. By making hard choices and using a little belt-tightening we will overcome this problem. The commissioners need to do the job that they were elected to do and serve in the best interest of the citizens of Newton County as a whole as opposed to just pandering to loud and vocal groups of political cronies. The surplus is gone so next year likely will be worse. Leadership means seeing the big picture and looking ahead, not just looking toward short term political gains. When making these types of decisions, no one is going to win, but all will survive.