Across the state and country, municipalities and counties are deliberating on budgets for the next fiscal year. In most locations the debate is not about whether there will be reductions, but about the type and level of the cuts that should be enacted. Some, with deficits running at only several hundred thousand dollars, have already launched deep cuts impacting various governmental departments and services. Compare that to any similar entity that might be facing deficits in the millions. Make no mistake....the struggle is real. It's only a matter or question of severity and options available to be implemented.
Do we believe that entities and governing bodies are undertaking these moves only because they have nothing else better to do? Do we think that they are being done due to some sort of intentional malice?
Nationwide, entities have received the same wake up call that the private sector has experienced for sometime, that has resulted in massive layoffs of jobs, company closings, and wage reductions etc. For each, the harsh and urgent reality addresses the need for new or broadened directions and mindsets.
So the real bottom line issue becomes what priorities each entity structure can or should establish as their core or guiding service priorities. Both public officials and taxpayers must have an appropriate voice in setting the direction that should be followed. Let us consider a few real life scenarios that could strike any debt stricken community.
Suppose the electric bill could not be paid and was turned off. Imagine no electricity for production and supply of the necessary water into homes and businesses. No running water for drinking, bathing or toilets. Should that be considered an emergency priority?
Or suppose this same lack of electricity prevented the community's sewer and wastewater system from operating and raw sewage would begin to backup into homes. Should that be considered an emergency priority?
Or consider an aging and, in some areas, a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure of water and sewer lines and streets that could damage transport, service delivery and property. This could also include shortages of capital equipment, supplies, or materials, that might make repairs or service delivery to fix water and sewer problems impossible. Should all of these issues be considered emergency priorities?
The choices may not be especially easy at times, but all needs and options must be on the table if viable workable solutions are to be determined. Above all, conversations must be expanded to include all aspects of a community's highest necessities versus wants or desires.
The road to fiscal malady has been due to numerous serious neglects and bad politics and management over time. Some waste and irresponsible spending became embedded. The handwriting has been on the wall for entities and governing bodies for especially the past few years but they chose to ignore and declined to head in a new and better direction.
Priorities will always matter. They will set the track we decide to follow and the results we end up living with. We must choose responsibly and sensibly. The future belongs to the cost efficient.