Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Opinion

December 20, 2011

County budget discussion needs to begin soon

JACKSONVILLE — When county commissioners were forming the current fiscal year's budget this past summer, there was a lot of talk.

Talk about the need to start next year's budget earlier in the year, possibly as soon as spring.

Talk about dipping into the reserves again and tightly manage the budget throughout the year.

Talk about how those reserves have dwindled in recent years, down from $10 million at one point to only about a projected $3 million left at the end of this fiscal year.

Talk about how it would be the last time the reserves could be used to balance the budget.

Well, with the first quarter of the fiscal year about to end, it's time to see if the commissioners will — as the old adage goes — walk the walk.

At least one commissioner is proposing that a budget discussion be put on the January agenda.

That's a good first step.

But we believe these further steps should be taken.

• A standing budget discussion on the commissioners court agenda on a regular basis.

• A hard and long looks at how to show  more than just a balanced budget, but one that comes in with funds to spare.

• Continued discussions with department heads on how to streamline their departments without seriously hampering services provided to the residents of Cherokee County.

• Starting the budget process earlier in the year to avoid a last-minute showdown between commissioners as occurred this year.

"This year, from Day One, we need to see where we can save," Commissioner Steven Norton said during the meeting when this year's budget was approved.

He and County Judge Chris Davis were on the side of wanting to pass the budget and cut expenses throughout the year.

In theory, a workable idea.

But the problem, commissioners Kelly Traylor and Katherine Pinotti said, was that it was based on the assumption commissioners and department heads would be diligent about streamlining.

"Good intentions fall by the wayside," Pinotti said, adding commissioners needed some "accountability from each department head, each month."

Taking it further, residents need some accountability from the elected officials and department heads on that same regular basis, giving residents information they can use to provide feedback throughout the year to commissioners.

Commissioners cannot conduct  business this year as they have in the past — deferring hard choices to the next fiscal year. The money isn't there anymore.

They can't even afford to defer action from one month to the next.

The time to tackle next year's budget is now.

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