There was a time when budget talks were as boring as they come around here. It was once mundane and predictable, particularly when property values were booming to unrealistic levels, governments were flush with cash and there was little reason to question every line item in a department budget, but now that financial strain is the norm these negotiations are fascinating for those of us who like watching politics at work.
The fact is most government budgets were plush with pork for years. Too much money was being spent, waste from everywhere and officials did a terrible job of restraining their expenditures. After all, there was little reason to put everything under the microscope in boom times. That’s why what governments are currently going through is a good thing. It’s during these times when government officials question all spending and find they allowed some silly things to go on for too long. For example, Ocean City currently staffs its tow impound lot 24 hours a day throughout the year. That’s absolutely ridiculous and is partially to blame for why that lot lost more than $100,000 a year. A movement is now in the works to eliminate that deficit with one of the moves being a reduction in manpower hours at the lot.
In many ways, Ocean City deserves credit for all the cuts it has made over the last couple years. An argument could also be made these reductions should have been identified years ago if a lean budget is the goal. Of course, officials all over have no other choice now. Reductions have to be sweeping, and they are looking everywhere for them. In fact, if Ocean City Councilman Joe Hall has his way, City Manager Dennis Dare will be told to re-examine the resort’s budget for the next fiscal year. Hall is hoping to see $2 million in additional spending cuts.
This is not a surprise move from Hall, who has made clear his desire to see the town’s spending plan reduced in the fact of declining revenues. However, what should prove compelling is whether Hall can garner the needed votes to send Dare back to work with the proverbial scalpel. The thought here is Hall will be able to secure three votes, but it’s unlikely he will get the required four council members to come to his side. Either way, even if he is successful and Dare does find another million dollars or more to cut, some at City Hall are saying that money should go to capital projects, rather than taking a penny or two off the city manager’s proposed tax rate.
Surely, the council should see what else Dare proposes cutting. He said this week he has a list of items in his pocket for the council to consider, but he clearly thinks they will hurt the town. Otherwise, they would have been in his proposed budget. The council should ask Dare to present these options and decide then which avenues to pursue. There’s no harm in presenting all possibilities.
The rumor mill is working overtime these days, and the latest piece of election gossip has it that long-time minority activist Ed Lee has weighed challenging long-time County Commissioner James Purnell this fall. When reached this week to discuss stepping down as leader of the local NAACP branch, Lee declined to discuss his future political plans, preferring instead to recap his proud accomplishments while head of the group. While Purnell has been challenged in elections in the past, he has dominated at the polls in all previous races. If the Lee situation materializes, it may be Purnell’s toughest test to date. It’s worth mentioning Purnell has represented the court-ordered minority district since it was formed more than 15 years ago.
In other county election news, Commissioner Judy Boggs made it official this week – she filed papers for another term. Boggs was unopposed in 2006 in her re-election bid, but word has it she will be challenged in her quest for another four-year term as numerous folks have come forward to test the waters.
Although most have not announced officially, it appears all the present County Commissioners will be seeking re-election. Already, Commissioner Linda Busick, Bud Church and Louise Gulyas have confirmed their plans, whether publicly or privately. Sources say Commissioner Bob Cowger is likely to run again. As for Commissioner Virgil Shockley, there are whispers he’s contemplating a higher office, and it’s no secret he has at least considered runs at other representative posts in the past. For now, Shockley looks poised to run for his fourth term in Snow Hill, but nothing is official.