Due to the success of the recent petition to force a referendum on a pair of tax increases, county officials are looking at significant shortfalls in their 2012 budget. At the same time, they are tasked with setting next year's budget under the same constraints.
According to the county manager, over the last four years expenses have already been cut to the bone and without the increases the council had been anticipating from the Service Area 6 and Municipal Services tax increases, additional personnel cuts would be necessary. Specifically, those staff reductions would have to come from the roads and public safety departments.
The choices facing the council at this point are grim. After trying to rebuild the county's reserves, they will likely have to dip into them again to cover the 2012 shortfall. But what about next year? In order to live within the budget dictated by the frozen tax rates, the manager believes the sheriff's department could have to lay off five deputies and the roads department also may have to make do with a smaller staff.
There are arguments that could be made for making cuts from higher levels at the county courthouse, but previous suggestions about combining some of the county's elected department-head positions have met with fierce opposition. Also, citizens would not be out of line in asking why the budget has been operating for so long so close to the brink. But with only a month left to rectify this year's shortfall and set next year's tax rate, there isn't time to quibble about past mistakes.
We agree with the county's manager's recommendation to reinstate the tax increases for next year and try to stave off another petition by holding a referendum to uphold the tax increases as soon as possible.
In the meantime we also support efforts to re-examine the state's petition law which made it possible for a small percentage of the electorate, many of whom do not live in the relevant service area or pay the tax, to overturn the elected officials' decision. We are hoping state legislators will look at raising the threshold for a successful petition or rewrite the law to limit participation to those who will be affected by them.