Budget Time Demands Accountability

Guest Correspondence

“Wants” and “needs.” It is budget crunch time in local government. Budget workshops are happening now and the most important decisions about the future of our area gets decided during these workshops. These are happening at the county level and on the municipal level. Many are happening next week.

If you are concerned about taxes, projects, services, now is the time to participate. The formal final budget meetings in September are too late, there is little to no opportunity to change what has been worked on for the six months up to those final meetings. You need to voice your concerns and preferences now. These workshops are admittedly boring to watch, and monotonous at times. But they govern where we are going for the next year and beyond.

We should all tune in and watch to see if priorities are adhered to, to see if the plans we have all paid consultants millions of dollars for are actually taken off of the shelf and used in the decision-making process, to see if our elected leaders are questioning administration and using data to decide the requests for additional staffing. Are commissioners asking for reports for accountability and productivity on staffing increases they have given in the past few years to see if those positions should be maintained?

Many local governments produced department master plans last year. Are those plans being specifically used in decision-making for new projects and services?

The most important question is, are we going to prioritize “wants” and “needs” and make funding decisions with health, safety, and welfare being our quality of life beacon? No doubt, “wants” are important to quality of life here, our ability to provide “wants” make Sarasota County the special place it is. But we need to make sure we focus on funding the “needs” first, remembering the lessons from the recession and that growing government because you can is not necessarily the best way to provide a great quality of life.

These workshops are full of recommendations from staff and many times reflect staff priorities. As you watch, ask yourself, are commissioners making sure their budget decisions are data-based, plan-driven, justified, and efficient?

If there is any time to watch local government, it is now. Tune in, write in and make sure you observe your local government in action. These days are the ones you will be able to point back to next year when you decide whether your “needs” are being met.

Christine Robinson is executive director for The Argus Foundation.

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