Saturday, September 18, 2010

Score Another for Spehar and the Sheriff

Yesterday, commentaries from two prominent figures in our community hit the local printscape and blogosphere. The manner in which they address aspects of the current government budget difficulties is worth taking note of.
Former GJ councilman and County Commissioner Jim Spehar, writing in the Grand Junction Free Press, lamented the seeming disconnect between the decision by the current commissioners to refund over $450,000 of business personal property tax revenues, and the ability of county government to provide essential services during a period of budget difficulty. His focus was on the Sheriff's Department, and with good reason, as 27 employees of that fine agency are now faced with demotion or outright layoff as a result of budget trimming for next year.
Jim pointed out that the largest check being cut to businesses as part of the tax refund will be $533, and wondered out loud how much that average amount would eventually wind up stimulating the local economy, compared with other potential uses:
"I'd guess that $452,426.64 would pay the salaries of 8-10 of those trained and equipped deputies (Sheriff) Stan (Hilkey) will be axing. Their money would really be turning over in our local economy buying clothing, gas and groceries, and local services. That list of 450 businesses getting a maximum refund contains many Mom and Pops, but is long on names like Xcel, AT&T, Bresnan, Halliburton, and other outfits who'll ultimately be depositing their relatively paltry financial windfall in some out-of-town account. Many might rather have a timely appearance by a deputy when needed."
He went on to apply the same thinking to the money being spent by the City to construct public safety buildings, wondering out loud how many local construction jobs would be created by the $32 Million in project funds.
Mr. Spehar basically called out the commissioners, and their supporters in what he termed the "redneck right", for knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing in terms of how the average citizen can be helped by allocating available revenue toward ends that make sense.
Sheriff Hilkey continued to make excellent use of his department's independent website with a concise and personal comment on his approach to being asked for considerable reductions to an already-reduced operating budget. His comments included:
"When I was first asked to find $3.4 Million in next year’s budget my shock and disbelief was off the scale, which was part of my emotional response to the request. It didn’t take long however to be reminded by the news articles and stories about others going through this pain to realize that the public we are serving is also in pain and it is not unreasonable for them to add to their expectations of us the expectation of cutting back."
"There is little doubt that the armchair quarterbacking will commence on the changes we’ll make. That is inevitable within a community and agency of our size...Heck, even I lack total confidence that we’ve planned perfectly. We will have to make adjustments as we go and respond to problems as they occur, but isn’t that really the business we are in anyway?"
Public Safety is largely a reactive profession that has in recent years learned, especially since 9/11, the value of mutual respect, coordination, and planning. Still, things happen that can't be foreseen, and the Sheriff's Department, arguably the most important service provider that the County funds, does tremendous things and leverages considerable resources from the community to do them. This includes citizens giving of themselves and their life experience by serving a government agency as volunteers. 

Despite the Sheriff's admonition about 'armchair quarterbacking', I'm still tempted to wonder how many of his positions could be spared if the County Administrator and Solid Waste Director positions remained vacant for another year. That's almost $250,000 on top of the nearly half a million that Mr. Spehar pointed out.

Sheriff Hilkey and Mr. Spehar are and have been public servants that have made considerable contributions of their life capital to help assure that our citizens receive adequate services, and that those services are provided in a professional and financially responsible way. Their short comments on this particular issue reflect their understanding of the difficulties involved, and highlight the leadership qualities that each possesses. Many of us who write about local affairs, myself included, have a lot to learn in these areas.

In this turbulent economic and political climate, regardless of political ideology, perhaps what Mr. Spehar said about the Commissioners' recent actions is something we can all learn a bit from. We need to avoid becoming "long on political action and rhetoric and short on basic common sense."

Have a good weekend.

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