Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Proposed Smith County budget for 2018: Less on roads, more on bureaucracy


The answer to government waste?  More bureaucracy!


Yes, kids, it's that time of year again--budget time!  The first of series of budget meetings and workshops was held by the commissioners court on Tuesday...


...and I don't like what I'm seeing.

Judge Moran is proposing creating two new administrative positions:  a "fleet manager" to manage county-owned vehicles and a "budget analyst."  The argument for the fleet manager position is that it could increase efficiency, reduce waste, and therefore pay for itself in terms of reduced costs to the county.  Sounds good, but when have you ever seen that actually happen?  What I've observed within organizations is that such measures mostly result in increased paperwork and red tape.

Next you have this "budget analyst."  Moran has three arguments for creating that position:

Moran said by 2021, the county will be required by statute to redefine the budget officer duties because of its increase in population, which is anticipated following the next census. County Judge Moran currently is the chief budgetary officer for the county.

What Moran is talking about is that by law, a county judge cannot be the budget officer in a county with a population of over 225,000.  Smith County is likely to reach that number by the 2020 census.  That will be an interesting development here in Smith County in that it will greatly dilute the power of the county judge, whose control of the purse strings can be used to bully just about every other official in the county.  So, Moran is thinking ahead by creating the position.  But 2021 is three and a half years away.  Can we not wait another year or so?  And I thought the county auditor was heavily involved in helping with the budget.

Moran wants this administrator to answer directly to him, not to the other commissioners.  If his predecessor would have proposed this, I would have been greatly concerned.  But consider this:  The last thing we want is for the current set of clownishioners going in and out of this person's office, demanding that certain things be included and excluded from the budget, threatening to have that person's head on a platter if they don't comply!

Another argument Moran makes is that hiring this analyst may save more money than it costs:

The judge said he is hopeful the budget analyst would be able to find savings.
“I believe the money we would pay for that position we will get back if we can get our offices more efficient and get good data analysis,” he said.
 
 
Perhaps.  I'd answer that maybe we could use outside consultants for that, but it seems like you can't get one of those firms to do anything for less that about $50,000.  Maybe it would be cheaper to just hire someone.
 
But the part that sent shivers down my spine was this statement:
“As the county budget officer, it’s my responsibly to serve the chief financial officer of the county, but anyone that has sat in that chair knows there are a number of hats the county judge wears,” Moran said. “There’s no way for the county judge to get into the weeds with all the lines in budgets to see if we are being as effective as we can.”
 
When have we heard this kind of thing before--that the county judge has too much to do and the taxpayers need to pay for a full-time administrator to do much of his work for him?  Try 2014, when FORMER County Judge Joel Baker inserted a position for a full-time "county administrator" into the budget, because it was just too hard for Joel to look after the day-to-day operations of the county, which was interfering with his more interesting activities like traveling to Austin and sexting and setting up surveillance equipment to catch electricity thieves.  I know I'm comparing apples to oranges here and that I need to give Moran the benefit of the doubt, but I'm just sayin'...
 
Please, Lord, don't let us go through that again!
 

Pay increases for county employees

 
The proposal calls for a 1-3 percent pay increase for all county employees, including elected officials.  How many of YOU, faithful readers, have gotten regular "cost of living" pay increases in the past 10 years?  What can I say--It is election time, after all.


Less for roads and bridges, still no plan

 
They're still taking money out of the 'rainy day' fund for special (roads and bridges) projects.  And they will only dedicate $2 million to such projects next year, compared to $4 million this year.  Again, Judge Moran makes a sound argument for slowing down spending for the time being...
 
I’m certain this next year we will have a strategic plan in place to deal with road and bridge long-term,” Moran said. “As a result of that, I want to slow down the growth in that department and get a full scale plan in place before we continue to spend as much money as we did last year.”
 
I agree that before we go throwing millions of dollars at this problem we need a plan.  I'm going to give Moran another pass on this, because he has only been in office going on a year now.  I'm guessing he has spent much of that time cleaning up the mess that his predecessor left.  But we paid for an expensive comprehensive study of the roads in 2014, so the county judge and commissioners ought to have at least a basic outline of what need to be done.  Therefore, there had better be a plan In place by this time next year, or else...
 
As for the clownishioners, they have no excuse.  All of them have been in office for 8 years or more.  Every election season they make noise about coming up with a "plan," which has yet to materialize.  It's interesting that they had no problem concocting a series of plans for the jail expansion, ranging in cost from $125 million to the $35 million plan they finally sold to the public.  They didn't bat an eye last year at paying $64,000 to study the possibility of turning the Carlton Hotel into a Taj-Mahal courthouse, which would have cost as much as $46 million!  What I think may be happening here is that the commissioners are kicking the can down the road to avoid the unpleasant reality that the county may eventually have to raise tax rates to get caught up on infrastructure needs because for a decade they have favored their pet projects in downtown Tyler over the rest of the county.

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