Welcome back to Wrong Side of the Mountain, my column about what makes living in Boone County good or bad depending on your perspective.
Now that spring sports has come to an end, I will have some time to dig into the Racine/Whitesville Hatfield McCoy Trail controversy.
I will be digging into both sides of the debate and talking to multiple players in that situation. Look for a large piece about that in the coming weeks.
I presume that by now, you all realize what a dark hole this county is in
financially. With less than a month or so to go in the fiscal year, we're about
$400,000 shy of meeting budget but the real fear involves what comes next year,
when the county will have to make up for a $2.5 million shortcoming. I've heard
barbershop talk about how we got here but in my opinion, nothing that I've heard come out of anyone's mouth can encapsulate the cause our fiscal collapse.
You can cite the loss of coal severance taxes, downward trends in local economy and the loss of coal jobs and you’d be correct that each have contributed in some way. You can cite them, among others but you’d likely leave out one glaring item.
In my opinion, if you want to know the reason for our financial discourse, just
follow the money.
Any investigator, whether they are a forensic auditor or a beat cop in a town
of 400 people will tell you that if you follow the money, you'll find the
source of the problem.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the coal industry gave this county a
false sense of security and we spent it like a lottery winner at a roadside
strip club. We didn't plan for the future. We didn't invest in infrastructure
and today we are paying the price in the form of the Whitesville water debacle
that we all hope has finally come to a painful ending thanks to American Water Company playing the role of savior.
As recently documented by the Coal Valley News, we paid outside consultants to come into our offices (perhaps remotely) and "advise" us on how to
prepare a budget. We paid them over $450,000 over a 19-year span and that is just the two that I've unearthed. I have a feeling that there are more. I have a feeling I'll find them, too. I most certainly will share it with you.
You'd be astute to say that this isn't really a large sum of money, in fact, it’s
only $23,684 per year over that time period. That would certainly pay for a
custodian that we had to lay off. It would prevent us from charging small
community groups $25 to hold a support group meeting. It would also allow our kids to play a baseball game without asking for their respective teams to pay a fee for the use of the lights.
To me, even for-profit softball events like the Tom Dooley annual tournament
held at Lick Creek Park should not have to pay the county for use of the
facility, even though I’m told that the event brings in about $30k before
The Danville Hawks youth football team pay $500 annually for the use of the
facilities at Scott High School. To the Hawks credit, they give back in the
form of donating another $300 to replace windows in the press box and $200 to clean the bleachers on the home and away side.
Back to county spending. Am I being petty? Only you can be the judge of that
dear reader. This is just a scratch and sniff sample of the bloated ridiculous
spending that has taken place over the last two decades.
Do we really need a fully loaded $32,000 concession food trailer that to my-
knowledge has never or at best seldomly been used?-
DId we really need to spend over $800k to a "security company" and
$3,200 on a windshield for a county vehicle? (more on that later)
It is my belief that our county commissioners must step up and take control of this situation. They must not rely on anyone to inform them. They must educate themselves and dig and ask tough questions that make people uncomfortable.
Follow the money.
To summarize my long-winded point, Boone County can overcome this but we have to live within our means, just like a household.
I'd love to go out and buy a mint 1971 Fender Precision bass guitar but it
isn't within my budget to drop $10k on a musical instrument. I'll use that
money to take care of my family instead, because they are my priority.
I think that the most logical place to start slicing and dicing isn't in
payroll. It lies in the vendors that we do business with, a barely-breathing
parks and rec department and recycling department that can't support itself.
That would be a good start. Outside agencies that are non-essential to county
government must support themselves.
Only time will tell if the amphitheater grant debacle (see story at
coalvalleynews.com) will correct itself or if the county is going to get stuck
with the bill after filing for more than one extension on the grant-related
requirements. It certainly seems like we have more workers directed to the site and more concrete poured and ditches dug when an inspector from the state starts sniffing around the project to document our progress, which incrementally must meet requirements for the funding.
Vendors of Boone County need to be examined through the eye of a needle. Are we engaged in ridiculous service contracts that we do not need? Could our talented workforce be better utilized?
I've said before that we are top-heavy in some salaries compared to counties of the same size. Again, follow the money.
I’m searching high and low for who to support in upcoming elections for sheriff and county commission. Identifying candidates without personal agendas, a desire for building or participating in a political machine for the sake of control and idiotic rhetoric is like finding a perfectly grilled sirloin in a bag of household garbage.
We’ll see who comes to the surface as that time approaches. It reminds me of
that time I put a Snickers bar in the pool at Boy Scout camp when I was 13.
This wasn’t my proudest moment as a scout but work with me here. I watched as campers fled in sheer terror clawing and scratching their way to the sides of the pool, holding an arm out for someone, anyone to pull them from the abyss of the harmless chocolate bar. Our county government is the pool. The chocolate bar represents an honest candidate who wants to make a change. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out who the kids fleeing the pool are.
Until Boone County can identify the next phase of our mainstream economic-
future, we have to identify streams of egregious spending. Perhaps our commissioners should learn to use our brand new transparency web site. Just follow the money.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or follow him on Twitter @philipdperry.