As my local (Spotsylvania County) Board of Supervisors prepares to tackle the budget this week, the members have dissolved into a cacophony (Free-Lance Star). Emmitt Marshall wants an increase for employees come heel or high water. Gary Skinner (my Supe) is insisting on raising the tax rate from 62 (already 6 cents over the equalized rate) to 65 for “the schools” (more on them later). Hap Connors also wants 65 cents, but for a whole slew of reasons. T.C. Waddy and Ben Pitts are, from what I can tell, all over the map.
Only two members – Gary Jackson and Jerry Logan – are willing to even consider a budget under the equalized rate of 56 cents, and herein lies our first important observation: Logan and Jackson are the only board members who were nominated or endorsed by the Republican Party last November. I mention this to respond to still far too popular notion that Spotsylvania candidates should run as “independents” in order to avoid the trappings of party affiliation. Logan has been a Republican for his entire time on the Board; Jackson was forced by his employer (the federal government) not be a GOP nominee, but he has always won the party’s endorsement and is a member of the Spotsy GOP committee.
All of the others are “independent” – which in this case really means they are not accountable to the voters. Logan and Jackson know there will be the devil to pay if they support higher taxes. More to the point, however, Logan and Jackson oppose higher taxes in principle – which is why they are Republicans. In other words, the party label sends a signal to voters about who the candidate is, and for what (s)he stands. The five “independents” provide no such information to voters. With luck, Spotsylvania taxpayers will remember that it was the Republicans who placed their interests ahead of the slew of special interests who demand more of their money.
That brings me to the Spotsylvania School Board, which has quickly fallen away from its responsibility of overseeing the school system on behalf of the people and into its usual role of overseeing the people on behalf of the school system. Initially, they presented a whopping budget with a slew of data that said nothing (activity-based-cost not being a well-worn phrase in our nation’s schools). Then the Board of Supervisors asked them what would happen if they had to find $12.1 million in savings, and hesto presto, a whole slew of line items came forth (SpSchBd).
Now, to hear the school board tell it (including their agent on the Board of Supervisors – Gary Skinner), the cuts listed in the above link are too horrifying to consider. Yet there they are, and in fact, a hiring and salary freeze would, by their own numbers, save $12.2M. Of course, the school board will scream “higher class sizes” – without the important note that the increase in school enrollment is projected to be one student for every nine teachers - hardly an unbearable increase.
This episode does, however, provide another valuable lesson in budgeting: if you want to know what a government bureaucracy will do with the money they want, don’t give it to them; they will suddenly become very informative.
The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors will meet tomorrow (April 1 – that may already be today for you, dear reader). I intend to remind them of the dangers of setting a rate above equalization. We are on the knife’s edge of a recession. Every county supervisor and city councilor will make decisions that will either keep their locality on the shaky road to growth, or tip it into bargain-basement property values, boarded-up homes, and blight. I hope Spotsy’s elected officials make the right choice.
Cross-posted to Rappahannock Red