Credit should be given when it’s due and the County Commissioners deserve some praise this week for being pro-active with Worcester’s finances.
From private industry to the public sector, from the smallest of businesses to the largest of state governments and from the richest to the poorest, the indications are everywhere – times are tough, and the economy is going to get tighter before it gets better.
At this week’s meeting, the commissioners showed they get that, enacting an immediate hiring freeze, calling on all departments to reduce operating budgets by 2 percent and suspending all non-essential out-of-state travel.
The hiring freeze is no big deal. It’s a no-brainer. Ocean City announced it would be doing the same weeks ago. That’s an obvious step to take and we don’t believe any sort of credit is due there. Government’s size should not be increasing when funds are tight, and it has nothing to do with conservative vs. liberal principles. It’s just common sense. The same goes for the out-of-state travel mandate. On rare occasions should county employees need to travel far on business in this technological age. Sure, there are training courses that arise every now and again, but exploring these on an individual basis makes sense.
However, the 2-percent, across-the-board reduction in department spending is a laudable move and an example of using foresight. The cuts from the state for the next fiscal year will more than likely require more reductions, but this is a good start and a proper training exercise.
While these moves highlight the dire conditions ahead, what’s worse is they still might not be enough. A federal report came out this week indicating inflation grew at 5 percent over the last year. That’s a scary thought. That means a household must be bringing in 5 percent more than it did last year just to be keeping pace with the rising cost of living. These are generalized numbers, but the point is worth noting.
Not all of that 5 percent trickles all the way down to the local government, but some of it surely does and that’s why these cuts ordered for the next fiscal year are appropriate. The fact is they might not even be enough. Only time will tell how drastic the states cut will actually be.
It’s not too much to ask each county department to cut 2 percent. For example, that’s just $7,000 from a department with a budget of $350,000. It’s not like the county is asking for a full-time position to be cut. It may take some creative finances, but this should not result in any extremely tough decisions having to be made by department heads. The lone exception may be the Board of Education, but there’s pork in every budget that can be sliced.
Households everywhere are cutting their expenses because they do not have as much coming in today as they once did. Governments are in the same boat in many cases and the scenario should be no different. They should have to reduce their spending when revenues are down, rather than simply add to the burden of the taxpayers. The county has made it clear it does not have the stomach to increase the tax rate on local property owners. Add this spending reduction plan to that pledge and we have a fitting approach for these times.