County seeks public input

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's always a wise idea to involve the public when making major decisions about how their money is going to be spent. That's why the majority of public entities who receive tax support hold budget hearings to give average citizens a chance to weigh in on important spending decisions. Sadly, these hearings rarely draw a big crowd. In fact, representatives from the local news media are usually the only ones in attendance.

This week, the Barry County Commission announced that it would be holding an open forum to discuss the county's current financial condition. The forum is being held on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Barry County Courthouse and is being held in addition to the public budget hearing planned for 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 22.

We think the forum will provide an excellent opportunity for area residents to learn more about how their government works and how the services citizens enjoy are supported financially. It's very important for taxpayers to realize that the county is supported by a half cent sales tax. The county does not assess a property tax. County officials zeroed out the property tax in exchange for voters' support of the sales tax over a decade ago. The county also receives some revenue from various user fees.

Because of the dismal economic outlook, Barry County Commissioners are predicting that sales tax revenue will decrease in 2009. That means for the second year in a row, the county will be unable to give its employees a pay raise. In addition, the Commission will be forced to cut services in the face of declining revenue. The only way to avoid cuts would be to increase the sales tax, which would require a vote of the people.

It is these scenarios that citizens will have the opportunity to discuss with their elected county officials next Tuesday night. We respect the Commission for involving the public and giving them a voice before making decisions that will impact the local citizenry. If you have an opinion on the county's current financial situation, now is your chance to voice your views.

In our experience, the Barry County Commission has always handled taxpayers' money conservatively. They have been good stewards of the money entrusted to them and will not pursue additional spending or different funding mechanisms unless they believe these options are something their constituents would support.

Tough times require tough decisions, and local governments are facing the same economic constraints as businesses and individuals. Citizens need to help the Commission make the right decisions, and attendance at next week's forum is the perfect way to do that. And as we've said in the past, don't complain after the fact if you've had an opportunity to offer your input before the fact and don't take advantage of it.