I would like to know how Madison County can afford to spend $2 million more than it receives in tax receipts. Already, the Court dipped into the 2017 budget General Fund a bit. I believe they are putting the county on a fast track to insolvency for 2018.
Instead of passing a deficit budget, I propose the following steps:
1. Cancel the $1 million expenditure for road repairs. Yes, county roads are horrible but giving the same people under whose leadership they became horrible another million dollars is certainly not wise.
2. Rescind the pay increase for all elected officials and all administrative staff.
Reasoning: Yes, people will lose their jobs. No, nobody wants that. But the county doesn’t exist to provide jobs; it exists to provide effective and efficient services to county residents, so a Reduction in Force needs to be enacted. Sadly, this is the only way to get control of spending. The most expensive part of any organization is compensation: salaries plus benefits. This budget fails on both counts. Absent a massive tax increase a RIF is necessary. Without a RIF the General Fund will disappear in a few years. Then the county is bankrupt.
The same people who enact a deficit budget gave themselves and the highest paid county employees a raise. In 2017 a County Commissioner is paid $52,000.00 per year. Many county residents who fund this take home less than $52,000. In fact, a past commissioner admitted he misappropriated county funds but remained in office without legal consequence. He also retired with a full pension. It is different elsewhere. The superintendent of Bremond ISD was caught doing the same thing. He served seven years in prison, lost his professional certificates and his pension was taken away. As taxpayers, we need the same policy to guarantee our tax dollars are used wisely.
3. Eliminate the Defined Benefit Pension Plan for all elected officials and administrative staff immediately as well as any employees not currently vested. Transition to a 403b (public sector 401k) employee retirement account.
Reasoning: The county contributes $2 to an employee’s pension for every $1 the employee contributes. That includes the County Commissioners who are making $52,000 per year. This is a dinosaur of a pension plan and it fiscally irresponsible. It is the pension model that is bankrupting Illinois; Hartford, Conn.; Chicago; New Orleans; and California. It is antiquated and unsustainable.
4. Eliminate all lump-sum vehicle allowances for any employee who currently receives one.
Reasoning: The County Commissioners receive a non-taxable monthly automobile allowance of $1,200 ($14,400) a year on top of the $52,000/year salary. Total compensation in 2017 was $64,000 for a job with only one defined responsibility: attend Commissioners Court sessions. Responsible organizations have travel policies that compensate employees a set rate per mile for travel outside of a given radius.
Madison County taxpayers deserve this same policy to guarantee the allowance isn’t overspent.
5. Enact Zero-Based Budgeting for the 2019 fiscal year.
Reasoning: Governments don’t have real budgets; they have spending plans. The tax appraiser tells the county how much revenue they can expect, then it seems spends every penny plus more. Spending always increases, never does it decrease. However, with Zero Base Budgeting, nobody is assured of anything. Every line item has to be justified. Again, Madison County taxpayers should know how their taxes are spent.
6. Put county road maintenance and trash services out for bid with the aim of contracting out those services.
Reasoning: Eliminate precinct-based road maintenance. Commissioners seem to know nothing about maintaining roadsp if they did the county’s road wouldn’t be a mess. Instead outsource it to a contractor who will assume all personnel and equipment costs. Do the same thing with trash dumps. A side benefit is this eliminates two out of three money pits the individual commissioners control, so there would be ample cause to reduce their salaries. Commissioners are supposed to be public servants, not lifetime politicians.
7. Put Commissioner Term Limits on the ballot for the next county election.
Reasoning: The County Commissioners needs to be term-limited to two consecutive terms. The county is growing and deserves new, fresh perspectives and ideas. Old thinking has us in our current mess. New minds will get us out of it. The taxpayers deserve this. They deserve new ways initiated. They deserve their taxes lowered.