Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where’s the Fat?

The Watauga County Commission has now completed over eight hours of review of County Manager Rocky Nelson’s proposed budget for FY 2012. Mr. Nelson calls his plan “a subsistence budget,” an apt description, though “austerity budget” might work as well.

One thing is glaringly clear: there was no “fat” in the Watauga County budget, despite last year’s campaign rhetoric by the three new Republican members of the commission. Cuts at this point go into muscle and bone. If the Republican commissioners had carried through on their aborted quarter-cent sales tax increase ... but that’s an “if” of only historic interest now, the Mother of All Botches. (Urging caution near the end of last night’s final session, Commission Chair Nathan Miller offered this self-critique: “We go off half-cocked enough. At least, I do.”)

The big unknown is still the Watauga public schools system. Mr. Nelson’s proposed budget adds over $400,000 to the schools that had been cut during the last two budgetary years. Many citizens do not understand that some 87 positions were already lost from the schools in the last couple of years. Superintendent Marty Hemric outlined for the Commission additional austerity measures that are coming: an end to subsidized dental insurance, the cutting of cultural arts programs, the cutting of Mountain Alliance, reduced travel for staff development.

The School Board is asking for an additional $784,000 from the county to make up a projected shortfall of some $1.2 million, based on what the new Republican majority in the NC General Assembly are promising to do. Even with that additional money from the county, the schools would still need to lose nine teacher positions and nine teacher assistants, plus likely reductions in high school athletics, band, and driver’s education. Mr. Hemric warned the commissioners that the Board of Education is “on the brink” of forcing two grade levels into the same classroom for a single teacher to deal with.

Commissioner Jim Deal floated an idea for meeting at least most of the schools’ shortfall. Because the debt service will go down by several hundred thousands of $$ during the next three years, almost $2 million of the $4.5 million Mr. Nelson proposes to set aside from the fund balance could be available now for shoring up the schools. None of the Republican commissioners expressed any enthusiasm for Mr. Deal’s idea.

Meanwhile, and perhaps because they needed to be seen cutting something, the Republican commissioners had a kind of bidding auction on who could zero out the most non-profits and public service providers. Out of a total county budget of $58 million, they grabbed a measly $53,000 by zeroing out contributions to agencies like Hospitality House and Parent to Parent and greatly reducing requested support for the Community Care Clinic, WeCAN, the Western Youth Network, the Hunger Coalition, the Children’s Council, and the Foster Grandparent Program (among others). These are mainly social safety-net programs providing services to people in need that the county might otherwise go without. Penny wise and pound foolish.

The public hearing on the proposed budget on May 17th will be the last gasp for trying to influence the direction this county will take in the next fiscal year and the quality of our lives here.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting matter of semantics. Can the unneeded debt the previous commission created and that we are obligated to repay be called fat? Does cutting everything possible in order to reduce this unneeded debt count as cutting fat?

SB said...

Where's the fat? There is no fat. Two grade levels are already forced into one classroom for one teacher to "deal with." (I hope that wasn't a direct quote from Dr. Hemric, as "deal with" isn't quite the verb I would use to describe it.) There is nowhere left to cut. I really hope people start to realize that, although it seems like it's too late to make a difference. Would attending and/or speaking at the meeting on the 17th help at all, or would the county commissioners feel "hijacked" again?

Anonymous said...

HIJACK IT!!! lol...Who cares if it "hurts" the commissioners' feelings...Now is not the time to be quiet.

Anonymous said...

america over the last 40 yrs has moved in the direction of asking GOV. to pay for everything to help people rather than people helping people,its easyer to say just use Taxs to pay for it. out of sight out of mind. But over time as people figure out how to pay less Taxs or none at all,the Benevolence side of city,county,state,and Fed budgets have to take big hits every yr.people feel better when they pay the Gov.to help people,but in public most people would never give a dime out of pocket to help a neighbor eat.some people call Gov. benevolence "Fat".so i ask the question is GOV.benevolence "FAT"?

Anonymous said...

i ask the question is GOV.benevolence "FAT"?


Maybe if some of you went to church (although this is not necessary), you might have some compassion for your neighbors.

Keeping people on entitlement programs to insure they vote Democrat is not benevolent. It is slavery.

Not Really said...

Yes, can we get something organized for the 17th? I'm tired of sitting and watching as our elected officials at both the state and county levels continue to cut education while doling out tax breaks right and left.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'd love to say a few things at the meeting on the 17th, but I really do feel like our local leaders are doing a much better job of trying to reduce spending without going overboard than our state level representatives. It seems that the elected officials in Raleigh are the ones doing the most damage, while our county commissioners are trying also to reduce spending where possible while dealing with the increased needs created by these proposed state cuts. I just want our commissioners to understand the direct impact that the cuts will have on all of our students. I am flabbergasted at the actions of our state reps - what is Dan Soucek thinking? He has to have a clue about how this will impact his own children's education. If he succeeds in slashing the funding to public schools, then I hope he has the integrity to keep his own kids there next year to suffer through the huge classes & combinations like all the other children in our county.

Anonymous said...

Let's take a bet: Soucek will continue to follow his lord and provider (Art Pope) and continue to cripple public education. Then he will pull his children out and either homeschool them or stick them in a private school. What are the odds? I say 65-35 they leave.
I agree with you. I think the Commissioners are scared to death to hurt the schools as bad as they probably wanted to. I think the public hearing put a bit of a scare in them, and we know how impressionable the 3 stooges are (isn't that right Deb Greene and Don Bolster lol).

Anonymous said...

Jerry, I hope you post this.

Anon, you are deliberately missing the points.

The unvarnished truth is that the previous BOCs and some county officials put this county in unprecedented huge debt with their long term land-buying spree and an outrageously expensive and unnecessary high school, and their earlier rosy projections were exaggerated, if not, totally false.

The last public hearing was a deliberate attempt to usurp the proposed sales tax referendum in favor of a top-heavy, huge, and demanding education bureaucracy. And no matter what the economy, this bureaucracy always demands more and more funding.

I hope the BOC majority has enough backbone to not allow this spoiled bureaucracy to intimidate them, and the BOC majority cuts even more of that enormous and insulting initially proposed County budget.

Also, Anon, you and your colleagues are conveniently forgetting the previous NC legislatures over the last two decades and their continuously increasing spending sprees over those years. If those legislators had just halted their spending increases and kept spending at the same level for just a few years, NC's fiscal situation would be in much better shape. But no, they kept increasing their spending.

And as for Deb Greene and Don Bolster, I doubt very much if Mrs. Greene would identify with such a neo-con like Bolster.

Anonymous said...

"Top heavy, huge, and demanding education bureaucracy." Once again, a Teapublican bringing national issues to Watauga County. I find it hard to believe that anyone can call Watauga County Schools a top heavy, huge, and demanding education bureaucracy. Charlotte-Meck schools, yes. WCS, not even close. It's hard to take your comments seriously when you continue to overblow your "facts."

Anonymous said...

"WCS, not even close. It's hard to take your comments seriously when you continue to overblow your "facts.""

It would be if the other Anonymous had over blown the facts. the problem is they are understated.