County budget mythology
The outgoing county manager is in the midst of budget planning with his bosses. The annual exercise, this year fraught with tensions arising from the manager's resignation and departure from the job in the next couple of months, is difficult, mainly because the county hasn't the resources it craves. Still, the FY08 spending plan has a $4.8 million price tag, some small part of which county taxpayers will have to pay.
In the past, balancing the county budget has meant a paper exercise in which revenue projections were inflated to cover costs that were underestimated. It's no different this year.
Some examples: Last year, Nelson Sigelman reports this morning, the FY07 budget, ended June 30, was in part balanced by county manager Winn Davis using projected rodent control revenue. For the rodent control department, expected to cost taxpayers $62,899 in the fiscal year just ended, revenue was expected to rise from $12,500 in FY06 to $20,000. As of June 6, 24 days from the end of the 2007 fiscal year, the department's revenue year to date was $12,859. No effort was made by Mr. Davis or the county commissioners to revise that department's budget during the year, although the revenue shortfall was apparent.
For the engineering department, which accounted for no revenue in FY06, the income projection was $52,500. Year to date 2007 revenue is $8,362. The commissioners and manager made no attempt to revise the engineering department budget during the 2007 fiscal year, although the shortfall was apparent.
The sale of Cape and Islands license plates, expected to generate $115,000 in FY07 revenue, had produced $78,506 as of June 6. The commissioners and the manager made no attempt to revise the license plate revenue projection during the 2007 fiscal year, although the shortfall was apparent.
Deed excise taxes, projected to yield $185,000 in FY07 revenue, has produced $125,155 year to date. For FY08, the projection is for $150,000. Ditto.
The pattern is obvious enough; the pathology is obvious too. The county manager and the county commissioners have for years colluded to accomplish two objectives. First, although the eight of them are in charge of next to nothing of fundamental importance to the functioning of Dukes County, or at least nothing that the towns, acting in concert, could not accomplish more efficiently, the county has been determined to grow itself. And, second, to achieve objective one, the commissioners and manager have insisted on maintaining the expensive apparatus of county government, never cutting costs, never shrinking from inflating income side budgets to chimerical proportions to maintain the fiction. The county finance advisory committee has failed to bring this expensive foolishness to heel. Perhaps the Dukes County Charter Study Commission will.