Earlier this week KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher asked Summit County Council person Claudia McMullin about the county’s first (of two) public meetings regarding Summit County’s 2015 budget. McMullin said there were only two public comments. One from someone who was concerned about future items that needed to be accounted for and one who thought the budget was just too high. McMullin said it was a big change from the previous years.
Does that mean that everyone agrees with this year’s budget? Before we answer that, we challenge you to form an opinion on the 2015 budget. How would you do that? Simply use the tools the County has made available. You can go to the Summit County website home page, where you will find there are two entries on the left hand side of the screen (half way down under Budget hearings). Read those and tell us what information you gleaned. Don’t have the time? Here is what we took away from the two documents:
- County revenues are up by about $3.7 MM
- Expenses are up by about $4.2 MM
- The County expects to lose money in 2015 (net loss)
- The County does a lot of stuff
- Permits (building and engineering) and inspections were up
- Population has grown in the last year, so have job numbers
- Operating expenses have gone up
- Increased costs of $4.2 MM are made up of employees, additional pay periods, and capital projects
- Capital projects include roads (Jeremy, Pinebrook, Wanship, and others) and facilities (fair, Kamas government building, Justice Center, lighting)
- They want to add staff (Animal Control Director, Animal Control Officer, Attorney, Assistant Plan Examiner, Fair coordinator, Engineer Tech, Transit District Tech, Court Security Officer)
- With these staff additions, Summit County would roughly be at the same number of employees as 2008-2009
- Various fund balances decrease (general fund, municipal fund, etc.)
- There are other programs they would have liked but are not included in this year’s budget (like landfill changes).
That’s pretty much everything provided. Are you for a budget increase? Are. You. For. A. Budget. Increase? You don’t know? That’s the problem.
How would any citizen know provided this information? We follow things fairly closely here at Park Rag and we don’t have enough information to make any sort of educated statement (other than we can’t make an educated statement). So, you end up going into a meeting and telling the County Council the budget is too much. Meanwhile, they have spent weeks looking at this. Your lack of detail in explaining your position is a just a punchline to them. Yet, you haven’t been provided the tools to go into detail.
For example, what is the budget for the Animal Control director? I’m sure some people have ideas on that. We live in Jeremy Ranch, so we could probably speak to improvements they want to make here (i.e. does that budget include the roundabouts we keep hearing about?). What does Additional Pay Periods mean? What’s the total extra budget for all extra employees proposed? What existing areas of the budget may need to be reduced? Perhaps these are explained for people physically attending the meeting but that doesn’t help encourage people to prepare and come to meetings.
We don’t know why this is. Was it easier to provide a partial view of information? Did people think there would be less complaints if less information was provided? Is someone trying to hide something?
It is what it is and actually state statute only requires that the finance department provide you a copy of information if you show up at their office. So, it is better than required but that’s not a high bar. So, for next year’s budget we would hope that the County would actually give more thought to how its citizens would actually consume the information to provide constructive feedback.
If not, we hope Council Person McMullin, when asked the same question by KPCW next year, would simply say, “It’s not surprising that no one showed up to comment on this year’s budget. It’s too complicated, your average citizen doesn’t have enough information to make an intelligent comment, and we’ve been looking at this for weeks — what could we have missed? So I’m actually glad that no one came because that would have just wasted everyone’s time.”
Too harsh? Definitely not. Too much truth? Maybe.