As I sat in the courtroom of the Russell County Courthouse Monday night, it couldn’t help but seem that the warning coming from County Treasurer Kim Fenske was falling on deaf ears.
As the magistrates mulled over a decision to purchase two new trucks for the road department at a price tag exceeding $230,000, an idea presented by magistrate Mickey Garner, Fenske told the magistrates that they needed to be cautious spending so much money out of the county’s general fund.
The county has a surplus of about $1.8 million dollars carrying over into the next fiscal year, and that seemed like a good enough reason for Garner and fellow magistrate Ronald Johnson to use those funds to purchase the trucks.
But Fenske told them to proceed with caution: that surplus has been larger, and with rising expenditures, it has been going down by around $200,000 each year. That might be going up too in the near future, with higher prices as the U.S. economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You could buy those trucks outright, but at some point, we’re at a negative of about $200,000 each year and that surplus keeps dropping by $200,000 every year, so the more we spend and the higher expenditures go up, I’m just looking long term,” Fenske said during Monday’s meeting.
I’m not here to deny that the road department needs better equipment. They do. And from what it seems, that was made evident during the ice storm last winter. Those workers did the best they could with the equipment they have and should be applauded for their hard work, and equipment upgrades should be considered for the department.
But there has to be some mindfulness about the financial future of the county. It wasn’t all that long ago when Gary Robertson’s administration took over the judge-executive’s office when the county had to borrow $400,000 to make payroll for county employees.
That’s not a place we want to be at again.
And right now with a national labor shortage, with the new vehicle purchases being made this year, the county is going to have more vehicles than they do people to drive them.
Right now, the county is in pretty decent financial shape and considering everything, they should be congratulated for that. It hasn’t been easy.
But if the county finds itself in financial distress again, there will be two options: cutting costs (i.e. laying off employees or cutting back services) or raising taxes.
Does anybody want either of these to happen? I would imagine not. I certainly don’t want essential services cut back or a higher tax bill.
Those in county government have been warned about what’s coming. Let’s see how they respond.
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