Commissioner Owens issues statement on county budget

Published 5:14 pm Friday, June 24, 2011

Editor’s note: Following are comments made by Polk County Commissioner Ted Owens on Monday, June 20, 2011 regarding the county’s fiscal year 2011-2012 budget.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to speak in favor of my motion. First I appreciate the fact you as chairman have let each one of us commissioner speak without cutting us off. Now I beg your and my colleagues’ indulgence and patience for this rather lengthy epistle.
After the 1986 elections Polk Co. went from three commissioners to five. Also at the same time I ended up on a board with four Democrats and me alone Republican. As commissioner McDermott is today, I was at that time on the state board of NCACC (N.C. Association of County Commissioners).
Right after that election I went to Raleigh to attend a board meeting. I was feeling pretty low and disgusted about the election results. A staff member who was a former county commissioner talked with and told me to remember that I was still an elected official and at commissioners’ meetings I had a right to speak and make motions. He also added “your motions may not get on the floor, but you still have a right to make them.”
For this reason whether I agree or not or feel that what is being said is factual, I will defend a commissioner’s right to speak at a commissioners’ meeting such as commissioner McDermott did at our June 6 meeting.
I believe our county manager is conservative and attempts to present a conservative budget. (That is one of the reasons I voted for him to become our county manager back in 2007.) After reading what commissioner McDermott said in the TDB about firing [Whitson]if he submitted a budget they didn’t like, then I understood why he submitted the budget he did. Of course at the June 13 budget hearing chairman Gasperson reminded the county manager he was not the only one that had a part in preparing his budget.
To the credit of commissioner Pack, he has taken the time to conduct a complete look at this budget and make proposals that greatly improve it.
I support commissioner Pack’s proposed budget changes because for the first time in a long time it takes the county in the right direction. It recognizes that the taxpayers in this county are being overtaxed. Commissioner Pack’s budget funds the needs of our schools and the need to correct some pay injustices in the sheriffs’ department and in communications that should have been addressed in previous budgets. It still keeps in the budget many items, such as the budget for the Foothills Humane Society for taking care of stray animals.
I remind you what President Reagan said about taxes. “My friends, history is clear: Lower tax rates mean greater freedom, and whenever we lower the tax rate, our entire nation is better off.”
Fellow commissioners, that also goes for counties.
Let’s look at the proposed $300,444.60 tax cut. It takes taxes back in the right direction. The 1.14-cent tax cut brings the county back to revenue neutral, which is what each of you said you would do when you ran for office in 2008. (The appraiser’s office said the average evaluation of a stick built house in Polk County is $200,000. That amounts to a $22.80 cut.) I am well aware that commissioner McDermott feels that doesn’t amount to much. I beg to differ if you are out of a job and don’t have any money that amount does mean much. For an example it will buy fuel for the car to go search for a job.
She said a tax cut would have a negative effect on the children. The $22.80 would buy some student 10 meals at Polk County. High. I could go on and on, like you could go to McDonald’s and buy several $1 meals or go to the grocery store and buy several loaves of bread, etc.
You said we are cutting taxes this year so that taxes will have to be raised next year. Everyone needs to understand that one of the few powers the state gives counties is whether or not to raise property taxes. So it is strictly up to the county commissioners to raise or not raise taxes.
During the last election all three of you made the point that Tom Pack and I voted to raise taxes. Now that we are proposing a tax cut you say it is not right. It is like the EDC director’s job. Last year you said it was not needed, this year you say it is. Are you for raising taxes or for cutting them?
You say commissioner Pack’s budget is not sustainable. At our May 9 meeting our chairman showed a chart showing that our assessed values were declining (that is mainly vehicles because people can’t afford new ones). Even with that, and your spending of millions right before the last election, the fund balance is still growing.
As I see it we are growing the available fund balance on the backs of the taxpayer.
Chairman Gasperson criticized me in January by saying I had caused an employee morale problem by asking what it would take to give the employees a 3- or 5-percent raise. However, when we propose correcting a pay injustice in the sheriff department and communication, commissioner McDermott called us Santa Claus giving out gifts. I don’t consider giving employees what they earned and deserve as gifts. By the way, you should not hire people under one set of rules and then tell them they can’t get a raise because you changed the rules.
I’m certain that if we hadn’t proposed that the insurance deductible stay at $500 you would not have reduced it from $1,500 to $1,000. When you cut benefits and do not give the employees a pay increase then you are cutting their pay.
As I said in an earlier meeting, I’m sure corrections in other areas need to be made. That is the reason commissioner Pack has said this proposed budget is phase one. Next year will be phase two.
About the UDO, we have a planning director, Kathy Ruth, and a county attorney, Mike Egan, and a committee that is capable of finishing this work without paying a consultant thousands of dollars to come clear across the state from Wilmington, N.C.
Commissioner McDermott, you have once again attacked the developers. Where do you think the funds came from that you are enjoying spending? These same people gave the contractors, carpenters, graders, electricians and plumbers, plus many others, work they don’t have now. Some of these people still have some very expensive equipment and they can’t pay for them when they are sitting in the yard doing nothing.
As you have, I have heard from both sides of the aisle that we need to work together. So why are you not willing to at least look at the suggested changes commission Pack has proposed rather than making it political and declare it DOA.
I ask each of you to do what hasn’t been done since this board convened in December and that is to put politics aside and give bi-partisan support to and vote for my motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me the time to speak.

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