Our big July Fourth extravaganza is now behind us, and it is time to look toward another big July event — this one for our city, school district, county, and other taxing bodies. Yes, it is the dreaded month of budget decisions.
Many have budget workshops in which board or council members review expenses and income and decide what gets funded and what does not. For others, the details are hammered out in committee, a printed budget is presented at the July meeting, a vote is taken, and the budget is done for another year.
If you wish to have a say about spending by the local library, recreation commission, cemetery board, school district, watershed district, township, city, or county, now is the time to find out when that group will have budget meetings. Got a gripe about whose road gets asphalt and whose gets only gravel? Now is the time to find out who makes those decisions and why. Unhappy about having to pay for your child’s cheerleading camp, art supplies, uniforms, or field trips? Attend a school board meeting and ask your questions of the people who decide a great deal more about your child’s education than that.
No one on the coffee shop “advisory board” is likely to have the correct answer to any concerns you may have about what is happening with your tax dollars. Many of them may have an opinion, but whether there is factual basis to their opinion is anyone’s guess. To find out for yourself you need to attend the meetings, listen to the discussions by people making the decisions, and ask questions.
You probably will find out that there simply is not enough money to cover expenses, and that is an eye-opener too. Each of the taxing entities has the right to spend some of your tax money, and that is true no matter where you live. How they determine their spending priorities is the part you need to hear. More than likely there are some departments or programs that will see cuts and others that will be able to expand their spending.
Many times when there isn’t enough to go around, those making the decisions decide to cut a little bit from every department or they decided to raise the mill levy and take more from each taxpayer to make the budget stretch.
That is the part you need to hear and understand. You elect the people making those budget decisions. If you don’t like what they are doing, you should remember that the next time they run. However, if you don’t know what they are doing or if you are just following the loudest member of the “advisory board,” you really have not done your job and you are not truly informed.
So find out who is meeting when, call ahead to find out the protocol for attending the meeting and asking questions, ask for copies of whatever budget information the committee has, and pay attention. By law, the meetings have to take place in the open, and you have the right to see what the board or council sees in any open meeting. Talking or asking questions may not be a part of what you can do, depending on meeting rules, but you can certainly contact individual members at another time. They should appreciate your interest.
And you should appreciate their efforts. I have reported about local budget workshops and hearings for 12 years and I have never seen budgets slashed just to “get” some constituent, employee, program, or department. However, I have always seen men and women agonize over spending choices — trying to keep the mill levy down, while making sure services aren’t compromised. That is the bottom line.
I am not always crazy about my job, but making budget decisions for a taxing entity is one I hope I never have! See for yourself by attending budget meetings. Really, you might learn something more than the “advisory board” members know.
— SUSAN MARSHALL