News and Tribune

Columns

October 23, 2013

OUR OPINION: You’ve used that line before

— The reasons many Floyd County elected officials used to explain how a $3.6 million shortfall came about are all too familiar.

It was the former auditor’s fault. Murder trials are expensive. It hit us out of the blue.

Yes, we’ve heard all of that before.

In fact, aside from the auditor scapegoat, those were some of the same reasons given by the county for short-changing the former New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department to the tune of about $4 million.

Maybe these situations really are unique. Perhaps the county has had to fund more than its fair share of murder trials. Maybe there was no proverbial “writing on the wall” for the county to see it was stacking up bills that it couldn’t pay. Maybe the auditor — who resigned earlier this year — was lousy at the job Floyd County residents elected him to do.

But maybe Floyd County has been failed again by its leadership.

Elected positions aren’t forced on people. But serving the public isn’t just about garnering the most ballots, it’s about making tough and informed, common sense decisions.

When the news came that the county had failed to live up to its funding obligations for the joint parks system, many officials said they were unaware the situation had gotten so out of hand.

Similar comments were made by multiple Floyd County Council members Thursday as they tried to explain to a roomful of angry employees why they were discussing county layoffs to bridge the funding gap.

Officials can only play the dumb card so long before people will assume that they’re just not qualified to lead.

With seven council members, three commissioners and several administrative workers in high-ranking positions, there’s no way this shortfall should have been kicked down the road to the point where the county’s back is to the wall.

One solution that has been proposed is raising taxes to generate about $2 million in additional revenue annually. That’s about $500,000 more than the county paid to purchase its Pineview Government Center from the New Albany-Floyd County School Corp.

To add fuel to the fire, it’s not really a center, as many county offices are still located in the City-County Building in downtown New Albany.

So basically the ideas that our elected leaders have proposed to rid the county of its ugly mess are employee layoffs, increasing taxes or asking the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County for a loan.

Two of those options are essentially bailouts for the council, as they would either be placing the burden of crawling out of the county’s fiscal hole on taxpayers or employees.

The third option — borrowing from the Horseshoe Foundation — seems highly unlikely, as it doesn’t appear the organization has interest in loaning money to an entity that over the past five years has failed to meet its obligation on joint parks and animal shelter agreements, and has a $3.6 million budget shortfall on its résumé.

If the typical $12.3 million budget for the county isn’t enough, during an average year, to foot services then yes, a tax hike might be a worthy discussion to have.

But a tax hike hard to justify when money has already spent on the Pine View center and land for a proposed Little League Park. The money spent there would have made a big dent in the deficit.

Taxes are for services for the people foremost. If there’s money left over and everything is in good standing, sure, upgrading a facility might be a feasible venture.

But to spend money on property and buildings while you have murder trials staring you in the face and you haven’t given most county employees a raise in eight years is bad fiscal management.

Maybe a fair offer would be for the county to figure out a way to address the current deficit without layoffs and then revisit a tax increase in 2015 when hopefully the holes inside the sinking ship have been patched.

Let this serve as another example to the public as well. Choose your leaders wisely. Just because someone is a nice person doesn’t mean he or she is qualified to oversee millions of dollars.

We hope the county has a better plan in place than trotting out the same tired excuses when the council meets Thursday night. We’ve elected them to lead and be responsible stewards of the public’s money.

Is that too much to ask?

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy, Assistant Editor Chris Morris and Assistant Editor Jason Thomas. Responses can be sent to shea.vanhoy@newsandtribune.com

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