County needs to ask some tough questions

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 14, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

Here we go again. As the deadline for Lawrence County to submit its budget to the state nears, things look a little bleak.

In fact, according to the county auditor's figures, things look a little tight and a lot red - more than $127,000 to be more precise. Add in a little election year fervor and fear and the plot really begin to thicken.

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So what should we do? Raise taxes?

We don't think so, at least not yet.

What needs to happen first is our leaders need to earn their paychecks. County leaders are now facing the massive budget pill that our state leaders were forced to swallow last year.

Commissioners need look no further than the shell of a former hospital between Eighth and Ninth streets to see what they need to do: make tough decisions now before it's too late.

River Valley Health Systems closed beneath an avalanche of debt in 2001, largely because no one was at the steering wheel, or at least no one was willing to make difficult, but necessary, decisions.

For a county with a more multi-million dollar budget, finding $127,000 should not be difficult.

Commissioners need to pull out the expenditure records of all county offices and see where expenses can be cut.

It's that simple.

Are county offices overstaffed? Judging by the fact that many county offices open at 8 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. each day, we'd suggest that's a likely assumption. If the county employees worked that extra hour that most folks consider necessary to fulfill a 40-hour workweek, it would be an increase of 14 percent in hours worked each week, per employee.

Also, last week commissioners reported they were working with some county offices whose budgets have a surplus to relinquish some of the funds. Doesn't that seem silly that we'd actually have to ask a county office to give back funds when it is for the good of the county?

Asking tough questions may not be popular for commissioners, but it is what is right for the county - and it is their job.