Commissioners, get serious about your budget
Lake County Commissioners said last week that, after raising the county- wide property tax rate 13.8 percent this year, they will work diligently to avoid a tax increase next year.
Commissioners, in interviews with
Daily Commercial reporter Livi Stanford, made some impressive declarations about their duty to be fiscally prudent and their commitment to finding “efficiencies” in the way they run government without harming the services they provide to taxpayers. Wait until next year, they tell us. You’ll see.
And we want to believe them, but the Lake County Commission’s track record in managing their own budget is terribly unimpressive.
This group wisely cut 159 positions in the recession years, when plummeting property values robbed government coffers of tax revenue. But they also waived county impact fees in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to help out the taxpayer (actually, developers). In doing so, they cut off a valuable revenue stream at a time they needed it most. And guess what?
Now they’re bringing back the impact fees because they’re facing a financial crisis.
The County Commission’s budget deliberations this summer were a sham.
Instead of meeting weekly to look for operational “efficiencies” they now pledge to find, they met just a couple of times and basically rubber-stamped a budget provided to them by their staff.
For purely political reasons, they refuse so far to look at consolidating the county fire and ambulance services as so many Florida counties have already done with great success. Their own county auditor strongly urged them to do so, and neighboring counties boast of realizing millions of dollars in annual savings, while improving the quality and effectiveness of both services. Yet the county hasn’t even commissioned a study of the idea, as the auditor suggested. They said they didn’t have the money for the study.
One commissioner, Sean Parks, said last week that he’s convening a special citizen panel to study county operations and recommend efficiencies. We’ve seen this approach in other places. This is a naked attempt to pass the buck to a group of people who have little or no understanding of government finance and services. Commissioner Parks, there is already a panel in place to do this work. It’s called the Lake County Commission, and each of its members are paid handsomely to handle this chore.
That’s just a smattering of the ways that this commission — Chairman Jimmy Conner and Commissioners Leslie Campione, Parks, Welton Cadwell and Tim Sullivan — has been sleep-walking through their budget oversight role.
Last week brought a new, interesting revelation: County Inspector General Bob Melton concluded in an audit that the county purchasing department was not putting county work out for competitive bids as it should — and as all government agencies in Florida do — but has been awarding contracts to private companies on a rotating basis, or sometimes simply picking a contractor with no explanation.
The reason government entities do competitive bidding is to ensure that the best prices are being obtained for public works projects and services and to avoid favoritism and cronyism. Except that isn’t the practice in Lake County, apparently. It’s impossible to know how much tax money has been squandered and how many projects the public has overpaid for.
So if the Lake County Commission wants us to believe their rhetoric, if the commissioners want us to trust that they will work dutifully toward crafting county services and fiscal policies that serve the interests of the people of Lake County, perhaps they should begin acting like they believe it.