Thursday, December 16, 2004

How to Balance a Budget, Home-town style

How to Balance a Budget, Hometown Style

Part two of a continuing rant

Fayette County Council members took a long, hard look Wednesday before cutting $300,067 required by the Indiana Department of Local Government inspectors from the proposed 2005 budget to make it balanced.

How do you balance a budget when you've cut everything you think you can?

(1) You make sacrifices:
In the discussion that followed a presentation by the committee, full-time county employees offered to forgo half of their salary increases in order to maintain health insurance for the elected officials.

Savings: $54,600, but the italics are mine (see [5] below)

(2) You do it with mirrors

The committee recommended removing all capital projects from the Fayette County Commissioners' budget and transferring those expenses to the Cumulative Capital Development Fund for payment, which amounted to $120,700 in cuts, he said.

Just under $125K to go...

(3) You take benefits away from soldiers and old people, and slightly reduce what should be a revenue-enhancing venture:
Starr said the committee recommended eliminating contributions to the Fayette Senior Center, Fayette County Free Fair premiums and veterans support, saving $21,050.

(4) You make it look as if you balanced this with self-sacrifice, or at least you sacrifice seven council members at $1,950 per:
Starr told the council members their salaries in 2005 would be cut to $3,000, from almost $5,000 in the preliminary budget, saving $13,650.

(5) You provide a disincentive for a wife or husband to run for elected office:
Starr said the committee recommended that each elected official and nonfull-time appointee be permitted to carry single plan insurance only, with the option to purchase spouse or family coverage at the full cost.

"This change in health insurance amounts to $31,596 in savings," he said. "No other employee would be changed at this point and there are no layoffs recommended in this report."

Note this in the context of (1) above. Give up salary to protect insurance--and then let us gut the insurance benefit. So they "protected" a benefit that was cut anyway.

Apparently, it was for psychological reasons:
Deputy Ted McQuinley of the Fayette County Sheriff's Department asked why council members bothered to give raises as small as $500.
"It's a pittance of a raise but I think, psychologically, something is better than nothing," Glowacki answered.

It is also at this point that my math (based on their numbers) fails, since the article appears to be missing $15,614 in cuts:
That left $15,982 to be cut, [Starr] said.

(6) Time for the mirrors trick, again:
"This is the point where Mr. Glowacki contacted (Fayette County Assessor Nancy) Stevens to ask if there were some funds that she believed could be transferred to help meet budget, to keep from having to get into insurance with any full-time employees or any layoffs of positions," Starr said. "Mrs. Stevens agreed at that time to transfer $18,000, that left a working balance of $2,018."

And there you have it. Only seniors, veterans, married elected officials, and those who believe that one-time exceptions should not be used to "balance" a budget were harmed in the making of this budget. To give Mr. Starr the final word (italics mine):
"I just hope through the whole process, not just for the council, that all of you are more informed and better educated about the process and where the funds come from and how they flow," Starr told the employees at the meeting. "There's never been any desire or intent to hide or manipulate numbers. They are what they are and we just have to deal with them."

Adendum: Don't get me wrong. I know Joe Glowacki, and I trust that he would try to do the right thing. But the result is a sleight-of-hand, done-with-mirrors manipulation that shorts veterans and seniors, and presents a picture where the numbers don't add up.

It's not that I doubt their motives, it's the suspicion that they really did do the best they could, and that the result is the best of all possible budgets that is frightening.


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