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Our View: Supervisors need to cut the right way

Our View
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More transparency and cutting budgets in the public sector during lean times are great ideas on paper. The execution of those ideas is more important. Recently, District 1 Supervisor Jack Duran proposed to put a one-year moratorium on Placer County’s revenue-sharing program. The program allows each supervisor to give $20,000 every year to local nonprofit organizations. Cutting the revenue sharing program amounts to a savings of $100,000 during a year when the county is facing a projected $2.8 million deficit for 2011-12 with $30 million at-risk based on state cuts. Duran also suggests that in the future the funds, if revived, should be spent per the direction of a citizen committee. The ideas of letting the public have a say in taxpayer spending and looking at ways to cut are solid. But suggesting putting the revenue-sharing program on hold for a year is weak and doesn’t go far enough. The county deficit is much larger than the symbolic $100,000. Start with supervisors asking each department to cut 5 to 10 percent from their budgets beginning with management. Supervisors should also scrutinize ongoing costs in each department and keep a sharp eye out for potential waste. One example is the county’s civil lawsuit against former Planning Commissioner Michelle Ollar-Burris. How many hours does county staff spend looking into this case? How much money has been spent on outside help such as hired attorney Richard Crabtree? The cost so far for Crabtree’s services has reached at least $180,000. What a boondoggle with no end in sight. County fuel costs are also worth reviewing. Are mileage logs carefully reviewed and how many county cars sit idly with the motor on and the gas burning? With gas prices soaring to close to $4 a gallon for unleaded fuel, mileage expenses are sure to put a dent in budgets. If Duran wants to look at non-essential or smaller cuts to trim the county’s deficit, he should also propose putting a hold on county-paid meals. If he’s willing to suspend funding to nonprofit groups that improve quality of life and give to those in need, surely county employees and managers can do without taxpayer-financed breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The Board of Supervisors is currently hosting a series of public budget workshops during their regularly scheduled Tuesday morning meetings to hash out what services are needed and what can go. Including the public in county spending decisions is a great idea, but only if residents are really listened to and have a proper forum to air their concerns. Tuesday morning is not the best time for working residents to weigh in. A weeknight would be better. In preparation for its June budget, county staff and supervisors should organize an evening community forum at a main city in each district at which residents can hear the proposed budget and voice their opinions about what matters to them. Supervisors, including Duran, need to make smart cuts that matter to taxpayers and show true fiscal responsibility by eliminating or putting on hold truly non-essential costs and mitigating the pain as much as possible to programs that have a positive impact on the community.