Letter: A simpleton’s budget
Spending in this county is out of control. And now our board of supervisors wants to raise our taxes unnecessarily. Some people in this county think some of us are just uninformed simpletons.
Before I retired last year, I managed the finances of an $8 billion ship construction program. I had a fiduciary responsibility to my shareholders and to my bottom line. I did the budgets. I did the cost reports. I did the operating plans. I did the profit and loss statements.
Every quarter I would direct each department to do what is called "zero-based budgeting." In other words, I made them start from zero and had them build their budget up. It was not simply a comparison of last year’s budget to the next, it was a budget starting from zero.
In Gloucester County, supervisors have the same responsibility with us. Simply comparing and rubberstamping a budget without asking some tough questions from each and every department head is nonsense. The supervisors should call them out and make them squirm and dance as they ask the tough questions!
But let’s do a little simpleton math here. The county administrator says that for every penny raised in the real estate tax rate, the county generates $400,000 in revenue. She says we have a $138M budget. So, backing out $45M in state and federal revenues, you end up with a $93 million ($138M - $45M) spending budget generated by the county alone through taxes and fees.
Now, the county administrator and the board propose raising our real estate taxes by 4 cents and therefore generate $1.6 million (4 x $400K) in revenue against a $93M budget. That means a 1.7 percent increase in taxes ($1.6 divided by $93). This is just about two cents out of every dollar the county intends to spend. I will tell you that this county can reduce its budget by 5 percent (or a nickel) and never miss a beat here. Do you mean to tell me that the board can’t find a two-penny per-dollar reduction in the spending budget?
Folks, we have runaway spending in this county. Let me just name a few. First, we threw away $750,000 on a compensation study. I liken that kind of waste to spending money on studying snail sex or studying shrimps on treadmills. This $750,000 is two cents on the real estate tax rate.
Second, the school board budget is a bloated pig—it’s 61 percent of the budget. I would tell you that we taxpayers are about to throw away $45M-$50M on a new school we don’t need—and the board doesn’t see it coming. Why can’t the school board renovate T.C. Walker with the $11.5M of Page insurance funds it got and call it the Walker-Page Middle School? It has a gym. It has an auditorium. We can preserve two historic namesakes—problem solved! We can pass the savings to our teachers who need it the most! I say renovate what we’ve got and pass the savings on to our teachers!
And third, the school board left $20M on the table with the insurance provider for Page Middle; but I guess we simpletons will never find out what happened there. Certainly our newspapers don’t have the guts or will to find out. If you guys in the media want a real story ... then follow the money! Don’t report what you see in front of you—peel the onion back. Do some investigative reporting. Use the same zeal as you did when you besmirched the fine reputations of four former supervisors who asked the tough questions.
To the board: do your job; make the county administrator look for savings. Make her do the tough decisions. You ask the right questions. You’ve got the time! Do the job we elected you to do—look out for us simpletons.
Phillip N. Bazzani