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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

County must find path to fiscal accountability

Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:22 PM

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The Issue: The county's continued struggles to balance the budget.

Our opinion: Voters need to go to polls Tuesday to help bring about much-needed change.

The Hernando County budget process is like a reoccurring theme in a musical piece.

For several years now, taxpayers have been exposed to this melodrama resulting from a lack of leadership on the current county commission. While commissioners no doubt have the best intentions at heart, challenging times require resolve and the willingness to make tough decisions that may be unpopular but needed.

Each year an accounting firm performs an audit and the results are put in the certified annual financial report, which is a detailed account of the county's financial position.

It's not too difficult to pick up the report and read through it. If assistance is needed, one only needs to visit the clerk's office and speak to the finance officer.

With the revenue side of the budget down, that leaves only one option to balance the budget, which is to reduce costs.

However, rather than making the needed cuts over the years, commissioners have become too comfortable dipping into reserves to save the day. With the reserves now nearly depleted, there is no magic bullet left in the cylinder.

Oh, wait, like in years past the budget director has once again found a pile of money to help partially offset the budget shortfall, this time via the judicial reserve fund.

One would have hoped commissioners had learned the practice of using reserves to balance a budget is just putting off the inevitable.

Using one-time funds, which then decline, for reoccurring expenses is foolish. That kind of financial chicanery can lead to the lowering of the county's bond rating which causes borrowing to become more expensive.

The main problem here is that the facts relating to the financial problem were known well ahead of the budgeting discussions.

That's when commissioners should have been exploring avenues for reducing the cost of government and not waiting until only a couple of months are left in the process.

It doesn't help that a number of errors have been made by the budget director in determining what the actual shortfall really is. It seems to change on weekly basis and this type of budget management is unacceptable.

There are difficult decisions that must be made and it seems the current board hasn't been able to make those, or we wouldn't be in this unenviable position.

The reality is, even when this budget is finalized, the outlook for future budgets isn't any brighter and is actually worse.

Where will we turn then?

Fiscal accountability is needed for all elected officials not just county commissioners.

This is why Tuesday's primary election is an important one.

Hernando Today has evaluated all the candidates running for local office taking into consideration the current budget situation and economic conditions. We have made our recommendations available for review.

We encourage all registered voters to make a serious effort to understand the candidates and their positions on the important issues of fiscal responsibility and leadership.

Your vote could make the difference between letting them continue to kick the can down the road and setting a new path to fiscal accountability.     

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