Back when my wife and I were a newly married couple now going on (data redacted) years ago, I was working for the commercial airline industry. Now, unless you were a union big-iron pilot you were making a sum of money that wouldn’t even rise to the level of poverty today here in Loudoun County. A co-worker, commiserating with me about the paycheck-to-paycheck state of our finances said he always found he wound up with “too much month at the end of the money.” It’s an old comment but it’s a valid one.
It applies equally well to counties as it does to young ramp rats in the airlines. Loudoun County’s annual budget process is in full swing and, as you’ve no doubt heard, we’ve got a lot of County spending proposals left at the end of the money. Well, that reminds me of another old saying that goes “when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” I don’t mean to pick out any particular Supervisor but I’m going to highlight the proposals of my own representative on the Board to illustrate my point. According to this story in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, Supervisor Andrea McGimsey has taken the opportunity afforded by the implementation of a new tax on hybrid vehicles to propose a new county official: a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. I’m not entirely sure what said official would really do with their day although I’m sure the person hired could find something to keep themselves at least appearing busy. I’m also not entirely sure we need such an official although I’m also not sure we couldn’t use them.
I am sure we can’t afford them.
We’re in a budgetary hole with virtually every facet of our government yelling about how they don’t have the funds they need and how we all need to pony up more to give them what they want. While the LCPS is certainly the loudest of those voices, the others are also certainly piping up. Folks, we need to remember the first step in dealing with holes we find ourselves in. The BoS is telling us they can’t pay for what they’re already doing. We need to stop digging and put a moratorium on anything new. If we don’t already have a particular department or service, we should absolutely not permit the creation of one at this time. It’s not a matter of the value of having such things. It’s a matter of we haven’t the money for them.
We also need to apply the same restraint to any suggestion that we implement large technology upgrades where those actions don’t produce some significant improvement in service or capability. Mentioned in the latest issues bulletin of the LCRC is a suggestion that’s been made to have the County spend something around $1 Million to swap out existing light fixtures for technology perceived as “greener.” This is another example of something that might be all well and good but it’s something we simply can’t afford right now. Perhaps in a few years when the economy recovers but not today. Any suggestions like this should be tabled immediately.
Government is implemented for actually very few functions. Law enforcement, emergency response, defense, and the fair application of our laws in disputes. We have also accorded it responsibility in matters of education and the creation and maintenance of our transportation systems. Frankly, anything that does not fall directly within these functional areas should be considered on the chopping block. I’m not saying kill any program outside of those I’ve mentioned, but we should seriously consider whether our County’s current income can provide the funds to run the programs that have been allowed to start. Our government owes us that before they turn around and confiscate more of our hard-earned cash at gunpoint.
And when the money gets so tight – as it has now – that the Board is feeling it necessary to instruct our law enforcement and emergency response teams to offer a budget request that reflects a 5% cut it should require that of all of the primary functional areas. We don’t hesitate a second to consider whether or not we can pay for that new road or interchange and to put the project on hold when the answer is “no.” If we’ve reached the point where we’re asking Sheriff Simpson to cut his budget 5%, we need to be handing that same figure to the LCPS and Superintendent Hatrick. I can hear the howls already but if we’re to the point of telling Loudouners that the response time from the Sheriff in the event of a break-in is going to be longer because he can’t hire those extra deputies he wanted then we’re at the point where Mr. Hatrick needs to make the hard choices and cut his budget by the same proportion.
To the Board of Supervisors, I’d say this: immediately halt any discussion of new services or departments in the Loudoun government until this economy recovers; do not implement new projects to upgrade systems we already have in place without a truly significant, near-term increase of capability or decrease in operating costs; require that all departments that fall within the scope of the core government responsibilities I’ve mentioned above cut their budgets by the same percentage figure. This year’s going to be tough, we all know that. Let’s see our government act like they know that, too.