Spring is around the corner and budgets are on the desk.
Balancing $46 million over multiple funds with restrictions and requirements set by State and Federal government even before the demands of the community takes up much of my spring. Yes it is every bit as glamorous as it sounds. The math is simple. Match over 1,200 expenses to over 200 revenues and don’t spend what you don’t have. The math is simple, so I am not going to talk about it. What is complicated is the budget impacts the lives of everyone in our community. Because the county serves the community as a whole.
In serving the community, you cannot forget the individual but you must always be aware of 35,244 individuals. People often ask why we don’t run government like a business. The difficulty in this is the county has to serve 35,244 people. In business you can target your customers. If a particular product or service is not generating a profit a business can stop selling it. If a business is not profitable it can move or close. County government cannot move or close. And county government is primarily not fee for service. You don’t get billed when you need law enforcement or social services. There is a charge for an ambulance to take someone to the hospital but that only covers two thirds of the costs of EMS. Why do these services not cover their own costs? Simple, people hope to not use these services. People do not want to use EMS or law enforcement. No one wants to come home to see firetrucks in their yard. No one wants to call 911 for someone they love. But public safety is the minimum level of service that was all demand of our community.
The next demands of a community is economy. Once people are not afraid the question becomes do they have food and resources. Do they have the ability to generate wealth in the form they seek? The private sector is better and developing the economy than government will ever be. However the role of government is still important. Businesses need access to roads, utilities and a skilled workforce. The skilled workforce is the most complicated issue. This is an issue nationally. We have citizens saying that there are no jobs. I must add a caveat that many of the people that tell me that there are no jobs out there have jobs. We have employers saying they are having difficulty finding employees. The difference is skill set. There are people that have a very difficult time finding a job with their perceived skill set. If an employer does not think a person’s skills does not match the employer’s needs, they will not be hired. This is one of the most important roles that the county plays in the economy, education. The county does not provide classes, it funds access to education through public schools and Richmond Community College.
Access to education is the key phrase here. Level of funding is insignificant for the person who chooses not to be the master of their learning. But the lifelong learner will prosper when given access to greater educational opportunities. So the question becomes how much we fund hope and optimism that people choose to be lifelong learners and how much do we fund to attempt to overcome apathy?
So what does this have to do with the budget? Everything. These are the questions that drive the budget. The average response time of a third call incident for EMS does not matter to most people. The time between you calling 911 and a paramedic helping your loved one matter. And when your loved one is in trouble that time is always too long. When you want to improve your skills so you can better provide for yourself and your family, access to education is important. When you want your children to have a well-rounded life access to recreation is important. People naturally consider their tax bill when they think of government budgets. It is natural to do so. How much any government takes from the community is always important. It must be balanced favoring how much is given back to the whole community.
These questions are going to be discussed and debated for the next several months in East Laurinburg, Gibson, Laurinburg, Maxton, Wagram as well as Scotland County. These decisions are made in our community, for our community. We should discuss them as a community. Ask questions of your administrators and managers. Ask questions of your elected officials.
Kevin Patterson, Scotland County manager, wrote this week’s Focus on Scotland, an effort by community leaders to make Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.