When will county leaders take real action?

Published 10:50 pm Saturday, May 16, 2009

“Where there is smoke, there is probably some fire.” Or “You have to make sure you can see the forest through the trees. How about, “The writing is on the wall.”

Use any cliché that you want, the end result is the same: Most of Lawrence County’s elected officials just don’t seem to get this.

In fact, playing on those same clichés, it is more like there is a full blown inferno that has burned up the forest and the trees, so the walls — and any of that writing — are now tumbling down.

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That is the level of financial crisis facing the county as it once again struggles to meet payroll while also sitting on nearly $500,000 in unpaid bills.

And this is just the latest time in recent months as the red flags keeping going up but no real solutions are being presented.

Of course the county commissioners will argue they have made some long-term changes that will help the county get into the black over a period of time.

And you know, they probably are right. Some positive changes have been made. But you know what else? This is too little, too late for the problems that are here today.

With the exception of newly elected Les Boggs, the other two commissioners have been in office long enough to have known this day was coming.

Both Doug Malone and Jason Stephens are smart enough to realize the problems. And I think they are both smart enough to come up with real solutions.

But it seems that nobody in county government wants to really step up and do the things that are necessary, most likely because they won’t be popular decisions and will cost some votes.

So what! We need all our elected officials to start thinking of the county’s future instead of their own.

The taxpayers have heard all the excuses: Officeholders won’t do their part. Unfunded mandates are too costly. Crime is expensive. The judges and prosecutor can court order their budgets. And the list goes on and on.

But you know what? We don’t care any more. The voters and the taxpayers of Lawrence County just want to see results.

I don’t have all the answers. Shoot, I may not have any of them But don’t let anyone say that I didn’t offer some solutions rather than just throwing stones.

First, the commission should close the Fourth Street side of the courthouse, eliminating at least two security personnel. This would save at least $50,000 a year, likely a fair amount more than that.

Then the county must consolidate all dispatching under the 911 umbrella. Not sure how much could be saved but it would cut an obvious redundancy.

Second, the commission should underfund the prosecutor’s office so that J.B. Collier has no choice but to cut at least one assistant prosecutor, saving at least $50,000 a year.

Third, the county should begin renegotiating insurance with ALL the employees, forcing the unions to get on board or face the consequences. It should be equal across the board and no one should get insurance without contributing at least 40 percent of the cost.

Fourth, all non-essential services should be cut. This means extra dog catchers and the 4-H office, just to name a few. Not to say these things aren’t important but the county must look at this as a do or die situation.

And this one won’t make me too popular but one of the commission secretary positions should be eliminated and the three commissioners should be required to fill in themselves on lunches and vacations to make sure the office is staffed.

That would likely net another $50,000 or more in annual savings.

None of these are pleasant changes. But they are exactly the type of changes that private businesses are undertaking each day during these tough economic times.

It is time for government to do the same … before all those cliches come true.

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