Grandstanding politicians win while county loses

Published 11:35 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No matter what, the majority on the Board of Commissioners (BOC) was bound and determined to produce a tax cut this year. But ¼ cent? $2.50 on a $100,000 property? Not even one “Happy Meal”?  It’s just for bragging rights. To be able to say during their next election campaign (without being able to pass the “red face test”), “we cut your taxes.”
But giving the BOC’s majority this bogus campaign claim makes all of Polk County the big loser.
What was lost to pay for this tiny tax break? The Department of Social Services (DSS) badly needs another child welfare worker. The position remained unfilled a couple of years ago when a worker was promoted. County Manager Ryan Whitson wanted to leave the position open for a while, to see how state funding went during the great recession.
With child abuse, including child sexual abuse, rising in Polk County, DSS asked for the position to once again be funded. It’s very badly needed, to protect the children. Said the majority:  “No.”  No reason given. But they needed to give a symbolic tax break.
Costs have continued to rise, and stray and abandoned animals are still a significant problem in Polk County in spite of an excellent spay and neuter program. So the Foothills Humane Society (FHS) asked the commissioners to reimburse them for Polk County’s legal obligation of holding such animals for only three days, even though FHS cares for the animals much longer to ensure forever homes.
The majority’s response?
“No, we won’t reimburse you for taking care of Polk County’s state-required duty. Let your voluntary private donors pick up the shortfall of $14,580.” The majority had to give a token  ¼ cent tax break. It’s the same as refusing to pay the county’s bills, only because they wanted to spend the money somewhere else.
Nearly everyone in Polk County said they wanted to preserve Polk County’s natural beauty and its rural heritage in a survey sent to every household in Polk County a few years ago.
So after Polk County’s commissioners set aside funds for farmland preservation for the last five years or so, what did the new majority propose for this year’s budget? They killed all funding for farmland preservation. They had to bolster their upcoming election campaigns to be able to crow that they gave their “not even a Happy Meal” tax break.
Even with all these losing propositions for the people of Polk County, it wasn’t enough to balance the budget. Voodoo budget work still needed to be done. Commissioner Tom Pack declared that all “capital” funding would come, not from yearly tax dollars, but from the county’s savings account, its “fund balance.”
But the capital items weren’t long lasting ones, like buildings, that sometimes are taken from the fund balance. They included everyday items like computers, cameras, scanners and printers, with a very short life, that most always are paid for with yearly tax dollars.
Raiding the county’s savings account to pay for ordinary expenses has been Tom Pack’s goal for years. Now that he’s in the majority, he’s putting that bad strategy to work. That’s not how a real businessman would handle Polk County’s finances. And it’s surely not the conservative way to do things.
On and on it goes. This majority’s first budget is telling Polk County citizens a lot about who is running the county now. It’s telling Polk County citizens that this majority is making Polk County “the big loser.”
– Renée McDermott, Tryon

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