Don#8217;t rely on county government when you are sick

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 29, 2007

Good thing Lawrence County taxpayers do not rely on its government to administer health care because the preferred method seems to be a “Band-Aids for broken arms” approach.

In medical terms, the county commissioners and some county officeholders continue to treat the symptoms — in this case a lack of money — rather than addressing the sickness — a long-running trend of spending more than the county brings in.

The county’s financial problems have been well documented for years but very little has been done to aggressively address the problem that has the county as much as $500,000 short of a balanced budget and again dangerously relying on a dwindling carryover.

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The issue culminated last week when Judge Donald Capper was left in the unenviable position of laying off five employees and shutting down two programs: the community service and adult probation departments.

Was this a legitimate attempt to address the problem? Was it a needed change to reflect that county coffers aren’t as full as they once were? Was it just grandstanding to draw attention to the problem rather than the solution? Probably a little of all three.

Now, the judge and the commissioners have reached a compromise that centers on the commission adding an additional $40,000 to the judge’s budget while asking Capper to move $30,000 from his special projects fund.

The commission also had to move more than $60,000 to the sheriff’s office to cover deputy and jailing expenses.

Should anyone celebrate? Not really. While this level of compromise and cooperation will be needed to truly help get the county on stable financial ground, this is just a stop-gap measure.

This has done nothing to address the real problem or overspending and continues to show a shortsighted approach that fails to account for the big picture. While some staffing and operation changes have been made, it likely won’t be enough and officeholders seem to be delaying the inevitable.

The commissioners have said that layoffs may still be needed next year depending on the carryover. Why rely on the carryover at all? The budget should be able to stand mostly on its own rather than relying on a carryover.

The county has requested the Ohio Auditor to come in and do a performance audit to analyze each department and determine if the county is operating efficiently. Something like this, which creates mixed feelings for me, will cost the county more than $60,000.

Ultimately, what is the point? The reality is that everyone knows the county is spending more than it brings in. What do we really gain from this audit?

If the results say that the government is operating efficiently, that doesn’t change the fact that the county is running out of money. Something still has to be done.

If the results say it isn’t efficient, it just reaffirms that something has to be done to make the expenses match the revenue.

This performance audit seems like nothing more than providing the politicians with a scapegoat and someone to blame for the tough decisions that are going to have to be made.

The county government should be run like a business and that has to start now.

Commissioners should reassess the way they handle the budget. Once it is determined how much money it will have, those funds should be allocated to the general officeholders as one lump amount based on prior expenses and available funds.

Then each officeholder should be responsible for his or her individual department. If a department runs short because too much money was put into salaries and money runs out, then more shouldn’t be handed out.

Let the officeholder find a solution and explain to the voters why they were unable to live within their means.

The judges have to get on board as well and forget about the notion of court ordering a budget. That approach is like saying “we’ll sink the ship before tossing anything overboard.”

It all goes back to those medical analogies.

Think back to one of the first trips you ever made to the doctor’s office. You probably needed a shot to make you feel better. Your parents said that it would hurt but that it was going to allow you to stay healthy.

Lawrence County needs a shot and it is up to the commissioners and the officeholders to be the parents. No matter how much it hurts now, the county has to become healthy.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at