as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Thursday, November 12, 2015
By TOM HENRY
I start by applauding the Mayor’s office for including more people in the budgeting process than was originally anticipated. This includes input from the City Council and, if rumor holds true, by some groups in the business community. Sometimes more heads really are better than just one.
This time around, cuts are going to have to go deep. Deep enough, in fact, that no one man should have to shoulder the burden of the backlash. By including more people it allows for more good ideas to come forward and it also provides the mayor some political cover when the axe has to fall and the axe does have to fall this time.
I also applaud the fact that the city council members met and discussed the budget, going somewhat line-by-line ad infinitum through departmental budgets, but they skipped salaries. Not every department was included in the first of likely numerous marathon budget meetings, but a lot of them were. Where were the other department heads?
I applaud the councilmen that did their homework in advance of the meeting. I, of course, am not gauging their grasp of the budget or their preparedness solely based upon how many words they uttered during the meeting (because I don’t want to encourage grandstanding or endless chatter), but rather by their actual understanding of city operations and the city’s budgetary list of account codes. Oh, by the way, I did see a few “deer in the headlight looks” also.
I applaud the council’s willingness to pick up the nickels and dimes on the proverbial floor in an effort to close the $1.23 million dollar shortfall. However, that’s just about where the applauding ends. Now, let’s get serious and go after that other $1.13 million.
I am not a diplomat, politician, or bureaucrat and quite frankly…I have no desire to be. I am a doer, manager, fixer and problem solver. For that reason, I don’t want to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about a problem. I want to identify the crux of the real problem and then fix it.
Councilmen and department heads, I’ll help you out – you are going to have to let some people go! Sorry, there is no other real way around it. I know it isn’t going to be fun, popular or even easy in some cases, but it’s just going to have to happen. Department heads, you must quit protecting your fiefdoms and really get lean. Stop selling buzzwords, fuzzy math or pie-in-the-sky pipedreams. Some of you run departments that beg the question “how many city employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Obviously there are a few, and I do mean a few, quality, intelligent, professional department heads though. I see you.
The city is in a financial crisis, and it’s serious. The financial health of this city is far more important than the protection of your departmental budget, payroll or personal power base.
The budget is now in such a state that we have to budget “right now needs” and stop squirrelling away hidden funds (like a savings account) for future wish list items. Also stop the whole spend it or lose it mentality.
Don’t automatically add 10 percent to last year’s budget in every line item to create “budget creep.”
We’re going to have to cut back the number of city employees so much that it’s going to hurt. City employees that perform manual functions are going to have to break a sweat now and bust their tail. No more four-man conventions just to tip a garbage can. If you think I’m harsh, try working in the private sector and see how they treat ya.
We’re going to have to cut back the number of extras as well. I’ll say it. It’s time to close the golf course and some of our other “wants” to make sure that we have all of our “needs” fully funded. There really must be no sacred cows this time around.
Why on God’s green earth are we scratching out funds for a small select portion of the city’s population to play, when the Chief of Police tells us that all of the department’s bullet proof vests are out of warranty (or will be this year) and that there is no money in the budget to replace them? Or that some of our old case file evidence has been damaged because of water damage? We have spent infinitely more time talking about the clubhouse roof and water leaks than the police department’s. I guess that is just a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
Also not every city employee deserves a raise, politicians say that, but you and I know better. I’ve seen a lot of city employees that I personally believe get paid too much, work too little and aren’t qualified for the job they have. The city payroll is bloated because it has been used for many years as a patronage system.
Mayor and Council, you have started the process well, but we only have a couple weeks before state law mandates that the budget be balanced. Those five-hour marathon meetings on hard metal chairs like I sat in (I know ya’lls are cushioned) are more than I can take.
Let’s stop using the scalpel and lets start using the axe!