Time to take a look from the other side

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

In defense of a city manager who has taken a licking for delivering too-high budgets, it must be said it’s perhaps the fault of Council.

Remember that all council members are known to say the same thing in order to be elected and reelected. Namely, they want the best education of our village children … and no scrimping on city services including fire and police protection. That is a mouthful of money and requires about two thirds of the entire budget. Both of the manager’s early budgets obliged them.

More than anything, it proves that voiced Council platitudes cost money. It also means they don’t know what they are saying, in financial terms. Those platitudes sound good to constituents and gets Council off the hook. So where, then, does our financial wizard, Christine Ledford, go to work with the red pen? George Mears, who knows about what he writes, suggests starting with payroll. Several times in my life I have seen the results of that philosophy … unnecessary personnel let go, raises held back or lowered. If better paying jobs in other cities are so plentiful, why have those folks not left?

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Council members proved positively they do not understand the budget process, and when given an opportunity and a sword to start slashing, they put it back in the scabbard and said they would accept 12 cents. They threw it right back in the manager’s lap, or should I say Christine Ledford’s lap? She thoroughly understands the numbers, how they got there, and why. If the city staff were to be cut, it would not be wise to let her go … unless Councilman Charles Brown would volunteer to take over.

I doubt even when the newly elected council members take their seats they won’t find it easy to eliminate much more fat. Going beyond 12 cents would take expert effort. There may be layers of fat in there somewhere, but recognizing it might be difficult. How does one prove there was a 10 percent added for &uot;just in case?&uot; And is budget language always easy to understand, or decipher?

Reductions as high as 20 cents were thrown around; that surely requires real detective sleuthing. It is a slow process, but not as slow as moving the immigration bill through Congress.

One question concerns the two lame ducks who stayed with the manager’s thinking. Were they simply loyal to the road they had taken from the beginning and believed his budget was best for continued success of Suffolk? Or were they just a mite honked off because they had become lame ducks and wanted to prove they still had &uot;teeth?&uot; We will probably never know, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

I know that those who lined up at the budget meeting pleading for more funds have applauded the lame ducks heroic stand.

Don’t expect the &uot;new&uot; council to reopen the budget, too much trouble, and finding more &uot;fat&uot; would wear Ledford out … she has done enough. However, it might be a good idea to take a look at what was cut and what wasn’t.

Aye, there’s the rub. Did some items sneak by a tentative red pen? Were some areas deftly protected … and not obvious to the untrained eye? Watching that process might be interesting.

I’m happy with a 12-cent reduction in the tax rate. Maybe now I can afford to buy gas, the medical drugs I need to live, and eat out even with the new tax they slapped on customers.

That gives me a chance to give Ed’s Place a plug, where I went for lunch today. I remember how good the buffet was at the old Dining Room. It is very good at Ed’s and I found it necessary to skip supper. Nothing fancy, priced right, and good food that Chris the cook did not let run out.

Contact the writer at pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com