Let’s talk about the facts

Dear Editor,

The recent county commissioners workshop was hosted to allow the commissioners to hear directly from the public on their feelings concerning our implementing an electric franchise fee, one of the several options counties are allowed to use in generating funds. 

Raising taxes: Now let’s talk about raising taxes:  First of all, remember, I was the only county commissioner who voted against raising your property taxes by an additional two mills.  The primary reason I did not vote for the millage increase is because our budgeting process does not allow us to see how the dollars are being spent once they are received. Since becoming one of the commissioners, I have asked for this information, and the response by some of the constitutional officers is for me to individually “come by my office and I’ll answer any questions you have.” In fact, this was actually said again at the last meeting. I don’t think this should be done behind closed doors.  The process needs to be open for the public to know exactly how their taxes are being spent, item by item.  I’m certainly not going to vote to raise taxes until we first find out how every dime is being spent.  This, again, is why I alone voted against the tax hike and have not taken a position of support on the franchise fee. Raising revenue cannot be considered in a vacuum.  Taxes and spending must be considered together. 

Balancing the county’s budget: The board has the difficult task of balancing a budget for the county, one that Clerk Denny Thompson advised has not been balanced for a very long time without using other funds such as CARES money.  It is my goal, as well as the other commissioners, to work diligently to ensure we are “living within our means/budget.” We are planning for budget workshops; the first being scheduled for March 1. As I had attempted to state in the meeting, the county commissioners are not a team of accountants. Therefore, we must work from the information that will be provided to us from Clerk Thompson and his finance team; they are the professionals with the knowledge and skills to make this happen. We, as a board, will take the information given to us during these workshops, and the budgets that will be submitted by the different departments and the constitutional officers.  Once we have that information, we will start the task of ensuring that each budget is reviewed thoroughly, looking to see how last year’s money was spent, and what it was spent on.  It is one thing to operate within your budget, but we must be good stewards at managing the funds we are given and not practice wasteful spending.  Once that has been done, we will either approve it or send it back for further review/information. Without fail, we must ensure that we have a balanced budget, operating solely from our recurring revenue.

Fire and rescue:  About the time I came on the board (in fact, it was just before I was elected), that the county began moving from a volunteer fire department to a paid, full-time department.  As you are aware, it began with Sheriff Smith agreeing to oversee the change and it is true that he began with $850,000. However, it wasn’t long until the sheriff requested additional funding ranging from $1.2 million, to $1.6 million; the difference was based on the number of staff that would be hired.  It was at that point he either gave it back to the commissioners, or the commissioners took it back. Who exactly did the giving and taking has never really been clear.  The sheriff understands the need for fire and rescue and the cost for running the department.  Since the sheriff is no longer running the fire department, his opinion should not be a factor in our consideration of funding. Now, do I believe the Brooker area is in need of better fire response? I most certainly do.  It is something the commissioners should consider as we look at our many needs.  I also realize the public support and creative management may need to be part of the conversation.  

Commissioners’ goals: \Your county commissioners are working very hard to ensure the budget is balanced, and we are hoping that all departments will work together to cut unnecessary costs and assist in making this happen.  I encourage each of you that have questions about actions the board takes, call your county commissioner and ask. Talk to them about your concerns and perhaps ideas that you may have that would help the county.  We are all in this together!  

Thank you and God bless.

Diane Andrews

Bradford County Commissioner