Decisions have consequencesPublished 12:00am Sunday, January 13, 2013
Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of physics is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Although the 17th Century scientist was talking about gravity and the forces of nature, it certainly applies to government spending and fiscal responsibility.
Although I think they generally want to do the right thing, this concept may be lost on some local government leaders who seem to make every decision in a vacuum, unwilling or unable to see the big picture and how every choice has an immediate and long-term impact.
How else can you explain the Jekyll-and-Hyde approach to spending and governance by the Ironton City Council and the Lawrence County Commissioners?
Commissioner Freddie Hayes summed it up nicely by saying, “We are in a good situation one week and the next week we’re broke. I don’t think we really know what we are doing.”
One day things are rosy. Raises and bonuses are handed out. Money is spent hand over fist. A few weeks later the sky is falling and public services are going to have to be cut drastically. Then, not long after, more money is “found,” changes are made and the day is saved.
Now, repeat this about every six to nine months.
Some of this is the nature of government and the fact they budget revenue conservatively and it sometimes comes in better than projected. But it was just a few months ago that city and county leaders were saying the respective financial picture looked pretty good.
A variety of factors, including too much spending, has changed that.
For the 2013 budget the commissioners mandated a nearly 25 percent reduction in salaries for every department, regardless of particular needs and how those cuts would impact public services.
The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office had its dispatching — which was in the process of being merged with 911 and recently took over duties for the city of Ironton as well — cut so drastically it would have decimated one component or the other.
Then, once the sheriff comes up with a layoff plan that isn’t popular — being responsible and doing it now instead of waiting until the end of the year like other officeholders have done in the past — the money is made available, but only if 911 is split from the sheriff.
That is absolutely ludicrous.
This reverses a decision the commission made less than a year ago that finally had the county on the right path toward eliminating duplicate services and creating a consolidated 911 center that handles all dispatching under the direction of an elected official who is directly accountable to the public.
Don’t like how the sheriff handles 911? Vote him out. As a standalone agency, the citizens’ only recourse is addressing it with all three commissioners.
It certainly looks as if the sheriff was being set up to fail on operating a combined 911. Although I think he is wrong on this, Commissioner Les Boggs has never changed his position on this issue and has a valid point that fixing 911 addresses one problem and makes it easier to address the other. But he certainly seized an unfortunate opportunity to furthur his own agenda.
The money supposedly wasn’t there when the agency was under one umbrella but would be provided if it was put under two.
How could the sheriff say no to that? Regardless of the fact that consolidating 911 and dispatching still makes sense, Lawless had to agree to this change to save jobs.
Commissioners Bill Pratt and Freddie Hayes owe the citizens of Lawrence County an apology for not having the guts to do the right thing and stand up for the move they made just a few months ago, one that was never given time or money to properly succeed.
It certainly makes you wonder if their push to consolidate dispatching last year was more about politics and having something to campaign on than it was on doing the right thing.
They will argue that the sheriff agreed to this change, but he was clearly under duress. Would the sheriff have done so if 911 and sheriff’s dispatching were adequately funded? I don’t think so.
Plus, this change does nothing to address the fact that a third of the county’s road deputies could be cut, as well as a dispatcher and jail administrator.
Everyone involved may have rushed the decision-making and should have stepped back to fully analyze it. So the issue of funding the sheriff’s office, jail and 911 is far from solved.
But this is just the latest example of making short-sighted decisions that ignore long-term gains. The commissioners aren’t alone in this.
Three county offices handed out nearly $20,000 in bonuses in December, yet they don’t seem to be held accountable by anyone. This may be small in comparison to the county’s $14 million budget but it is indicative of the type of irresponsible spending that is widespread. Bonuses are passed out in some departments right before layoffs.
The City of Ironton is no better. The council continues to make decisions that are out of touch with reality.
In the original proposed budget for 2013 all non-union employees are budgeted to receive a 6 percent pay raise. This pay increase was part of a plan outlined last year but was also contingent upon those individuals paying the full 10 percent of their retirement and an additional 2.5 percent of their health insurance.
Those two key points were left out of the draft budget. This all comes at a time when nearly a dozen employees remain laid off and the city’s ability to provide services is being dictated by two of its unions who refuse to join the rest of us in the real world and pay their fair share. We will see how the city’s final budget shakes out.
No one will argue that the city and county need more revenue but, until that happens, the problem lies in how both spends what it has.
Even if a tax levy was approved by citizens, which doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of happening, it would be just a couple of years before the city and the county were once again facing budget crises and asking for more from citizens.
Now is time to look at the big picture and start holding all elected officials accountable. Demand public input and informed and intelligent cuts as opposed to taking the easy way out and simply reducing a number on paper. Start actually making some of the tough decisions instead of delaying them.
It won’t be easy and certainly won’t be fun but that’s what they signed up for when stepping up to lead our city and our county.
Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.