Editorial: Keep an eye on budget panel

Island County’s new “citizen financial review committee” starts work next month, and it’s worth keeping an eye on if you’re a frugal citizen tired of paying more taxes.

The newly appointed committee is being directed by the Island County commissioners to study the county’s five-year budget projections and decide if those projections are realistic.

The composure of the committee isn’t entirely reassuring that it will conclude that the county can and should live within its future means. A couple of liberal-leaning former county commissioners, Republican Dwain Colby and Democrat Bill Thorn, will sit on the panel, among five others. There is financial expertise on the panel, but little if any representation by well-known conservatives, someone with a past history of being frugal with the county budget. Dick Caldwell, another former commissioner of the Republican stripe, would have been a good addition, if available. He enjoys credibility among more conservative islanders. As it is, we’re left wondering exactly how fine-toothed the comb will be that’s raking through budget numbers.

The three incumbent commissioners have done a good job handling the last two years of the financial crisis. They’ve made painful cuts in all departments, angering union and non-union employees alike. On a 2-1 vote, with John Dean dissenting, they even voted to cut a deputy, despite the Sheriff’s Department’s enormous popularity. Revenues in 2010 look anything but rosy. It’s understandable that the commissioners are tired of wielding the cutting blade, and they’ve raised fees and licenses about as high as is practicable.

The outcome of the new review committee’s considerations may well be a recommended tax increase. This would likely require a vote of the people, so how it would be packaged is highly sensitive. For several years there has been talk of a special tax levy just to support the Sheriff’s Department. After all, it’s popular and enjoys the support of the people. However, this would allow more of the existing revenue to be spread among other departments, so all aspects of county government would benefit.

It’s too early to say no to any proposed tax increase, but it’s a good time to advise citizens to keep a close watch on the financial review committee’s deliberations. Study what they’re studying and reach your own conclusions.

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