Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This Budget, County Deputies Are Counting On Us

Start talking about the county budget with somebody, and odds are strong their eyes will glaze over. Not very exciting stuff. Tell somebody that 19 Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies might get laid off, and their ears will probably perk up a bit. We can always count on the Sheriff's Department to be there for us; now, we need to be there for them.

Anybody who’s lived around here for a while realizes that with the way things have been going for the past decade or so, more and more of the county’s law enforcement duties have fallen on the Sheriff’s department, particularly in the vast expanse of the county outside the urban core. Townships and villages that once budgeted for a few cops are now relying more on the Sheriff’s department to patrol their turf. Meth labs. Drunken drivers. On and on.

Tonight (Thursday) at 7, the Dane County Board has a public budget hearing, and it’s likely to get very interesting.

County Exec Falk has been saying since Labor Day, to anyone who’ll listen or stick a mike in her face or point a camera at her, that this is the “toughest budget since the great depression”. Since our county exec is in her 50’s, she wasn’t around during the great depression, so she’s making a weak analogy.

The budget battle lines are being drawn on many fronts, but perhaps none more critical than funding for the Sheriff’s department. Falk wants the deputies to take ANOTHER pay cut of 3%. What she doesn’t mention is that the deputies union in June took a 5% pay cut through the end of the year, to help the county during these hard financial times.

Now, Falk wants more. And understandably, the deputies say “we already gave”.
The deputies union is running radio ads which you may have heard, pointing out that it’s not just as simple as swallowing another pay cut. It’s about the way the county does business. In their ad, they say it’s time for a county government that saves for a rainy day - and doesn’t spend like crazy when it’s sunny out.

It comes down to priorities. Anybody who’s been through tough financial times - and with unemployment where it is now, that’s a lot of folks - knows you have to decide what’s really important and what’s not. I guess the deputies are saying there might be a frill or two here and there which we just might be able to live without, until times get better.

There’s not much government does that’s more important than protecting its citizens. The botched 9-1-1 call in the Brittany Zimmerman murder made that point clearly. If you don’t take care of business when it comes to emergency responders, you’ll hear about in a big hurry.

It’s not all on Kathleen Falk’s shoulders. The formula the state uses for property taxation has not been very kind to Dane County, and with the economic downturn, people are spending less so sales tax revenue is down. She’s asking for a nearly 8% hike in county property taxes.

According to the deputies’ math, keeping things the way they are now, with no cuts, will mean about 50 cents more a month on the average home. Six bucks a year.

Depression or not, seems like money well-spent. Or budgeted.

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