We’re almost a month into 2012 and few people could have predicted the eventful headlines that would come out of the Platte County administration building so far this year, especially regarding the budget which was finally passed after some initially continuous opposition. While you’ve been able to keep track of the overall discussion and finger pointing that’s taken place through our news coverage, there are a few sometimes subtle, but important themes that haven’t grabbed many peoples’ attention and consideration.
The County Commission has cited one main reason why this year’s budget has required them to make, in some cases, drastic cuts and they’re not afraid to tell you every chance they get. It’s what is referred to as the federal government’s unfunded mandate to upgrade emergency radio equipment. They point it out as a way to lay the blame of the financial burden at the foot of the federal government, but leave out its purpose.
When the 9/11 Commission report was released in 2004, it cited first responders’ outdated equipment as something that could have saved lives if properly functioning. With this in mind, the federal government issued a requirement for local governments to update their emergency equipment to save lives in the future. The deadline to meet the requirement was set for 2013. Here in Platte County it may apply in the event of a tornado, flood or any other emergency where lives could be saved based on response times and effective communications. Giving local governments nearly nine years to implement it was to provide elected officials the time and flexibility to financially manage and budget the costs. It was never intended to be crammed in at the very end like a college student studying for a mid-term. This speaks to one of the few fundamental roles county government serves, which is to manage the county’s finances responsibly with long-term stability and strength in mind. By most indications, this was simply kicked down the road, no matter how burdensome of a requirement it may be.
While the cuts needing to be made now for the (lack of) budget planning previously are reality, there’s another approach that seems to be playing out. When it comes to budgeting and taxes, the County’s perceived strategy over recent years can go by many different names, one of which simply goes by “starve the beast.” With three Republicans on the Commission, it’s no surprise their goal is to cut County expenses and lower taxes. That’s reasonable if well-planned, done responsibly, and for the right reasons. As taxpayers, expectations for county government are usually pretty basic. Quality roads, law enforcement protection, customer service and financial management are the big ones. Usually as a manager, not a politician, you look to cut inefficiencies as much as possible without hurting the results or effectiveness. In a government setting, this would usually be done by lowering expenses to the point where service quality maximizes the benefit to people at the lowest cost, then a tax cut would be merited to reap the savings.
What Platte County has been doing over recent years, though, is the opposite.
To read the rest of the column, pick up the Jan. 25 edition of The Platte County Citizen.