The broken down army truck, purchased by the county for the Emergency Services Department, with money allocated to office supplies for the Building Office, without the knowledge of the supervisors, has certainly created a lot of buzz.
It is a clear case of fiscal irresponsibility, and is a shoo-in for “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
It is however an easy problem to solve:
- The Board can approve budgets by category and not bottom line. I agree with many who will say that this approach is micro-management. Were it not necessary, I would not recommend it.
- Obviously, to begin with, there was fat in the budget. The best method to rid the budget of fat is to use a zero based budgeting approach. In a zero based budget the entire budget is reviewed, not just the year over year increase. For example let’s say that in fiscal year 2015-16 department X had a budget of $400,000 for operations and $100,000 for one time capital expenses, resulting in a total of $500,000. The next year department X submits a budget of $500,000 that includes $450,000 for operations and $50,000 for one time capital expenses. If the supervisors were to look only at the bottom line they would see no increase and might be tempted to approve. However the budget is actually a 12.5 percent increase as ongoing operations have risen by $50,000.
The supervisors have taken a lot of heat for their fiscal irresponsibility, and rightly so. But, I believe that there are many positives that should be noted:
- Fiscal mismanagement is not embezzlement, self-dealing, personal corruption, or rascalism.
- We are very fortunate that our system of checks and balances works, and our treasurer, Debbie Knick, is not afraid to take on the good ol’ boys. Without her diligence, the ineptitude could have been far worse.
- When one looks at the bigger picture, actions the supervisors have not taken are the most encouraging. They have not chased the farmers out of the county (like they did Cooter). I hope they continue to not listen to those voices that say “the land is for looking at and not for using.”
- The board has not allowed developers to take over the county and use the guise of affordable housing to carve it up to satisfy themselves.
- The Judge threw out one of the lawsuits against our beloved county. A lawsuit against Rappahannock County is a lawsuit against all of us who live here and pay taxes. Political disputes should be settled at the ballot box, not the courthouse.
All things considered, the supervisors have done a decent job. This is especially true when one looks at the big picture. The need for diligence is, however, never ending, as subsequent to the retirement of two long time county employees, and there is a narrative that is attempting to pave the way for a massive increase in the county bureaucracy. The board should take note of what Charles de Gaulle said at the low point of the Nazi occupation of France: “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”