Editor’s Note: The following remarks were delivered Tuesday morning on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. at the county commissioners’ continued budget workshop.
I have some difficult medicine to deliver this morning.
I believe the patient - that is, the financial health of our county - is seriously ill, but you have chosen not to listen to numerous remedies that have been suggested for the contagious disease we suffer.
To further remind you of the CCFC’s efforts to help cure the patient, once again here are copies of our memo detailing means and methods of reducing the current budget numbers by approximately $967,000.
I beg you to hear me now. I hope you take to heart what I am about to say.
You are our leaders. You establish the governmental fiscal stability and fate of the citizens of Franklin County.
Our county’s system of budgeting and finance is broken. You must want it that way because, as our leaders, you are the final word in costs and expenditures. You have now proposed yet another raise in property taxes. This latest one totals another 11 percent. This unnecessary raise is a direct consequence of your failure to act responsibly on behalf of the citizens of Franklin County today.
You might as well put “This tax raise brought to you by the irresponsible inaction of Smokey Parish, Noah Lockley, Cheryl Sanders, William Massey and Pinki Jackel” on the outside of the TRIM (Truth in Millage) envelope this year. Because it is true. Even though you have chosen to bury your elected heads in the sands of Franklin County, you cannot hide from the results of your failure to act responsibly as fiscal gatekeepers.
Do not say “There was nothing we could do” using the excuses that the state increased the retirement rate and we had a big bill for Medicaid reimbursement. That only amounts to a bit over $300,000 of the total increase.
The reason for the rest of the increase is on each of you commissioners. I have spoken to every one of you privately on occasion and the usual answer I get is that you are powerless to act, or make changes. The truth is, you throw up your hands in helplessness to the voters and say you are powerless but that is only because you chose to put on blinders to the real truths of our economics.
I don’t believe that any of you are really deliberately bad or incompetent people. But I believe you are guilty of fiscal malfeasance and have violated your oaths of office.
Strong words? Let me recount what I believe are some of your financial failures:
1. A majority of this board did not even look at our 2013-14 budget until the morning of the first budget workshop. The budget is your most important reason for existence. Bad budget, bad government. Why are you not putting the time and attention into a top down review of the budget process? We are a very small county. The majority of you have been in office for multiple terms and been exposed to many annual budgets. Why don’t you know the budget backwards and forwards as some of us have learned it?
2. I have heard over and over that the constitutional officers decide their own budgets. That would be a big surprise to the writers of the Florida Constitution. Our governing document puts you squarely in that position, not them.
3. Employees of the county work hard. Are 100 percent of them good eggs? Like all other large businesses, that answer is no. Yet, Franklin County employees know well that exceptional performance is not rewarded and mediocrity or worse is tolerated and sometimes even rewarded. Where is the responsible personnel oversight and management?
4. Who is at the heart of the healthcare system in Franklin County? You are commissioners. You are ultimately responsible for all aspects of that system from primary care to hospitalization, buildings, maintenance and future planning. Under your ongoing direction, Franklin County is consistently rated at the very bottom of good health outcomes. Why? Certainly, it does not have anything to do with how much we spend. Healthcare spending from all sources is approaching the $10 million mark and rising quickly. Where is the legitimate and long-term discussion of Franklin County’s ongoing healthcare operations? Your head-in-the-sand attitude is bankrupting the county bit by bit.
5. We have become a pariah in the investment market. People have walked away from properties when it became apparent that we as a county aren’t coming back financially, and certainly not as fast or successfully as are our neighboring counties. I have people call me each week telling me how dissatisfied they are with the political system here; they just want to give up and run away. Commissioners have a duty by oath to provide for the general well-being and economic prosperity of its citizens. I don’t see that discussion taking place.
I could go on but what’s the sense? There is no “free lunch,” commissioners. You have used grants to lift our boats for a generation. They are departing as the tide, with the caveat that they are not returning. BP money boosted our economy and can’t be blamed for the continuing fiscal mess you have allowed to occur as of today. The golden goose is now officially cooked.
As you requested, I have carefully analyzed the county budget and have provided commissioners with a plan for dramatically reducing the latest 11 percent increase. There is much more that can be saved by practicing carefully objective review and management. I am asking you to say “No” to additional increases that have not been vetted by you on a line-by-line basis. This would even leave money for real investment in the positive future for the county residents.
Please take my comments as a warning bell that demands your fiscal accountability to answer.
How will you respond, Commissioners Jackel, Commissioner Massey, Commissioner Lockley, Commissioner Parrish and Chairwoman Sanders?
Allan Feifer is the president of Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.