It’s Bad Times for Local Governments
by Art Goodtimes
May 14, 2010 | 1044 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CINDY BELLAI … I sure understand the frustration with government in these bad times. You see the Feds bailing out Wall St. and it makes regular folks mad. Nobody bailed me out when a divorce settlement saddled me with huge credit card debt a few years back … Still, I wish Cindy Bellai had called me, before penning her letter to the Watch last week. My number’s in the book. I’m the District 3 Commissioner, and I would have been happy to explain the logic behind the difficult budget cuts we are in the process of making – in fact, I consider it my job to do just that ... So, it’s frustrating for me, too. Nobody ever shows up for budget hearings. Few, except the press, ever ask questions about why the County spends money or not. Even KOTO has dropped its County Lines programming, and so I haven’t been interviewed on that wonderful community institution for a year or so. At least I have the opportunity to educate the public through my newspaper column … In response to Ms. Bellai, first, let me say that the County is indebted to Jack Krebs for the great program he ran and very disappointed at his decision to leave. Jack’s resignation took the Board completely by surprise. For Ms. Bellai to say the County didn’t “stand behind” Jack is flat wrong. I helped hire Jack and have only heard good things and complimented him on everything he’s done … Second, we didn’t cut the budget for the County 4-H program – we simply enforced a hiring freeze that we have had to put in place since the economic collapse of these past two years … Luckily, the County has been able to make expenditure reductions without firing anyone or cutting services significantly ... Take a look at our (once) richer neighbors – the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village. Both have had to lay off a number of employees and I can guarantee you they weren’t simply using “the economy as an excuse,” as Ms. Bellai infers the County is doing … Actually, luck didn’t have a lot to do with it. Former County Finance Director Gordon Glockson worked tirelessly for 20 years to help the County build a large reserve fund that we are making use of to backfill the last two years of continuing budget shortfalls. But in pro-actively projecting our budgets into the future, given the current revenue trends, we have estimated that in five years from now our reserves would shrink to almost nothing – an unacceptable situation. So, we’ve had to start making cuts -- by eliminating cost of living raises, cutting travel and training budgets, looking at ending all community grants and by instituting a hiring freeze … Thanks to our ability to draw down our reserves, these are modest cuts this year. But there are more cuts to come … The County Sheriff’s department is already down three officers – people we can’t afford to replace. The County Road & Bridge department is cutting back on gravel and paving. All county offices have had to tighten their budgets and do more with less … Worst of all, on top of declining revenues, in March we got the unfortunate news that this year our federal payments to counties for non-taxable public land within county boundaries called PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) has been slashed by $400,000 – money we’d expected and had planned for in 2010’s reduced budget … Why? A mess-up on the part of state government, of the Dems in the Legislature (Secy. of State and former State Sen. Bernie Buescher’s fingerprints are all over 2008’s Senate Bill 218), and of Gov. Ritter attempt to sqeeze a lean budget for more education dollars. Faithful to the law of unintended consequences, the Legislature and the Gov. changed the distribution formula for federal leasing monies coming to counties in Colorado and two years later have ending up costing a number of rural counties big bucks. San Miguel County alone stands to lose several million dollars over the next couple years – $400,000 of which comes out of this year’s already heavily backfilled budget … The downturn has hurt some folks up front – those with big mortgages, realtors, construction workers. For local governments the effect has been delayed – we’re about two years out from the effects of late 2008’s collapse. Unexpectedly losing a chunk of this year’s budget – money we thought the Feds were going to give us to help bail us out (“full funding for PILT”) – brings the bad news home to the courthouse ... And so now, facing the full effects of the downturn, in spite of some federal stimulus money that’s helped ease the pain a bit (have you visited the Uncompahgre Medical Center recently?), the County can’t afford to hire new people, raise salaries, take on new funded projects. In fact, we’re going to have to continue to find more ways to cut expenses and balance taxpayer funds. That’s our job. And in bad times, fiscal responsibility means tough choices. And it only promises to get harder … Learn about Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 that could get approved by the voters in November. It will change the world of local governments and school districts in Colorado like you wouldn’t believe.

WISE WOMEN HERBALS … My friend Muffin Burgess of Paradox tells me that May 21-23 will be the first weekend in a series of three Herbal Medicine Workshops taught by Uncompahgre Herbalist Pamela Hyde-Nakai at Mt. Peale Bed & Breakfast in Old La Sal, Utah. Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. There be plant walks in a variety of mesa and mountain habitats to learn wild plant identification and proper wildcrafting. Come prepared for outdoor conditions. Also to be discussed are systems the body and appropriate herbal therapeutics. Then, with the plants collected, you will begin making your own medicines … Other workshop dates are July 9-11 and September 10-12. For more info, contact Mt. Peale B&B at 888-687-3253 or email THE TALKING GOURD

Fischer Prize

It was as if the One God

pulled the lever

on clever

& out rolled Mark Fischer

onto the Valley Floor’s green felt

sinking all but the eight-ball

& speaking sixteen languages.

Clerked a Supreme & edited

law reviews at Stanford & Harvard.

Still, it was Mark on his own

who humbled his hands.

Taught himself flute.

Came to town a masseur

renting a garret room

in a main street Victorian

& only later practiced law.

Seriously playing (not golf)

but polyglot eurythmy.

Leaving us all too soon.

Too fast. Houdini miscast.

The heart’s locked trick his last.

– Art Goodtimes

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