Editorial: Rein in county spending, hiring to get back on a sound footing
[Editor’s note: We wrote the following editorial over a year and a half ago and then decided not to run it – that it might make a bad situation worse. Now, we’re not sure it could be worse: the museum has completely lost its funding, the county is threatening the town, and two longtime employees, who served the county very well as far as we can determine, have been terminated and replaced with two people who are not Tunica Countians and who know little of the history of what has occurred here in the past 20 years. One of the new guys even stumbled over the supervisors’ names the night he was seated at the Board table.
So much for the “hire local” initiative the new supervisors were pushing a scant two years ago, when they were still running for their positions.
And this current Board, though they continue to blame their predecessors, has presided over a sharp decrease in the county’s cash on hand – in plain language, money in the bank – at a time when the national economy still lags and when the local gaming industry continues a decline that began over five years ago.
Now, several supervisors are recommending funding cuts to other “support structure” for our casinos: the Convention & Visitors Bureau and Tunica National Golf & Tennis Center.
We could go on in this vein, but we want you to read the following and then consider that the facts presented only cover calendar year 2012 and the first few months of 2013. We’re now at the end of 2013, and although the hiring and spending has slowed somewhat, mostly out of necessity, the county has just approved the purchase of two expensive pieces of equipment for the Road Department; wants to build, then operate and maintain yet another county facility that will likely be underutilized; and is teetering on the edge of overdrawing all its bank accounts.
But you may say, “What can I do?” We say: get informed, get involved, get moving. Look at what our future as a community is fast becoming. Think about the future of your business or your job. Think about the prospect of the value of your home and property declining sharply. Think about property crime escalating. Think about your peaceful neighborhoods becoming increasingly unsafe. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and let this happen. Let us say it again: GET INFORMED, GET INVOLVED, GET MOVING OFF THE SIDELINES!]
Fact #1: In the second half of the Fiscal Year 2012, county coffers were depleted, with gaming tax revenues continuing to decline and officials looking in every corner for ways to cut expenses.
Fact #2: The FY 2013 budget adopted by the county Board of Supervisors last fall contained no provision for employee pay raises or capital projects.
Fact #3: A number of county-supported facilities and programming received cuts in appropriations in FY ‘13.
Fact #4: The Board justified a 30 percent plus tax increase by saying that the additional funds generated by increased taxes would pay off debt.
Yet throughout 2012 and in the first quarter of 2013, supervisors approved a whole series of additional jobs, purchases and budget increases.
For example, in February 2012, the Board granted a $6,000 pay increase for a Road Department employee who had just been hired at a certain salary set in January. In March, site prep work for a multi-purpose center at Robinsonville, estimated at $200,000, was approved for advertising; a bid of just over $135,000 was ultimately accepted.
In April, two trucks were approved for purchase in the Road Department and three additional employees hired there. The very next month, four more employees were approved for the Road Department.
In May, a bid of $44,487.62 was approved for a trailer mounted sewer cleaner for the Road Department, which also asked that month to advertise for one or more pick-up trucks and a bucket truck. Bids on two pick-ups, at almost $29,000 each, and the bucket truck for $122,750, were accepted in June.
In April, May and June, the budget for the annual Community Pride Fair went from $10,000 to $14,465.
Is it any wonder that in July 2012, county administrator Clifton Johnson reported a monthly budget deficit of $200,000?
In August 2012, Road Department manager Joe Eddie Hawkins asked the Board to replace the county shop, estimating the job at $1 million, a request not yet acted upon. The Board approved the drafting of a new redistricting plan, in the amount of $25,000, when a previous board had already spent over $34,000 in county funds for this same item.
In October, the Board hired three employees in the Road Department, including an animal control officer whose assigned duties took the place of Humane Society volunteers who were doing the same job for free. There was one hire in the Justice Court, and the new position of Director of Community Affairs was created at a salary of $65,000.
An auditor was contracted at the rate of $125-350 per hour to conduct an internal audit, when the county already pays for a state-mandated audit every year.
In November, the board approved an increase in appropriations to Aaron Henry Healthcare, from $25,000 to $75,000. After that purchase was approved, District 2 supervisor Cedric Burnett said that the county “now has a revenue problem and a spending problem.”
In December, tax bills landed in citizens’ mail. Taxpayers saw increases that, in many cases, doubled the cost of car tags and hit homeowners with another wallop.
In February 2013, supervisors approved advertising for two pick-ups, a garbage truck and a roller for the Road Department. Late in the month, the Board approved the purchase of two pick-ups at $26,007.68 each, and one garbage truck for $229,935. A bid in excess of $58,000 for another piece of Road Department equipment was recommended for approval but held over to a later meeting.
Supervisors also agreed to purchase a 15 passenger van for the 4-H program, quoted at just over $24,000; approved a detailed survey concerning drainage issues along Verner Road, another $5,000-8,000; employed two people for the youth offenders program; and received bids for the Robinsonville multi-purpose center that ranged from $1.5 to $1.9 million, not including seven various add-ons that could up the price of the project as much as $136,000.
In executive session, the Board created a new position at the Tunica Arena, one not requested by the facility’s director and not advertised in any manner, so far as we can determine, a practice noted by the county administrator in February, when he said that the current board had hired employees without advertising the positions.
All this is occurring in a county that led the state of Mississippi in unemployment for Feb. 2013. In other words, our county leaders have gone on a spending spree – on the backs of taxpayers who are already strapped in a sour economy.
As we write this, however, we know how this critique will be received. We’ll be excoriated, blamed, vilified, and called “racist” for daring to print these facts. Will our words make a difference? Probably not.