Monday, February 21, 2011

Fiscal Health and Local Government

Visible Debate by Visible Lawmakers... A Healthy Sign

The Augusta County Government Center.

Nichole Gelinas in City Journal writes about the indicators of health in local and state finances. Her article: Hidden in Plain Sight [click to read] says that disclosure requirements are a step in the right direction, but they alone will not fix the situation.

Think of our own local government and the recent property assessment battle. The historical pattern had always been one where assessments were performed in a rather casual way to follow the then predictable rise in real estate values. Governments planned expenditures based on this pattern and boards of supervisors rubber stamped the whole process.

In a steadily growing economy there was no need for questioning reality, after all. The can kicked down the road was highly unlikely to roll back on you.

After 2006, reality changed. The appraisal and budget process that followed underscored the need for lively and open debate. Tracy Pyles, supervisor from the Pastures District, took the bold and necessary step of addressing flaws in the process that would eventually come back to bite us. The assessors were using values derived from a real estate bubble that had already burst. There was no reality in letting tax rates be driven by these numbers. Furthermore, the inflated numbers created a false report to state revenue agencies, resulting in reduced payments to the county from state taxes collected.

The inability of other local elected officials to throw themselves into this debate is telling. In low-crime Mayberry, Barney Fife can keep his service revolver empty and his bullet in his pocket. If revenues can be counted on to rise 'safely,' we can afford to let the supervisors kick the can down the road, or so it might seem. Actually the need for open and honest debate is even more important when we might plan honestly for a range of contingiencies. The best reforms happen quietly and in a timely manner. They may never show up in print.

The 2011 campaign for supervisor's seats in Augusta County should create no less than a mandate for the kind of debate that will monitor county vital signs BEFORE a fiscal disaster occurs.

Note: The Author of this post actively serves in the campaign of David Karaffa for Supervisor.

Taking a different path. Governor McDonnell in support of Governor Walker.

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