What is the direction of the County? While there is a draft Strategic Plan under consideration, it is more of a mission statement than plan. The proposed draft plan tells us what a road would look like but not where it is going.
The County budget documents reflect philosophies and goals for Cobb yet the budget itself is more functional in nature than programmatic. The costs associated with each department are stated but it is difficult to find their connection to the visionary elements of the budget. To be blunt, the budget, with more than 70 per cent of the expenditures going to personnel costs, looks more like a jobs program than a budget focused on services.
I know given the quality of life in Cobb that is not completely true. But simply listing a department does not equate to a program.
For example, within the Department of Parks and Recreation, what precisely are the programs to protect and enhance the health and well-being of Cobb County residents and protect the natural environment? What resources are being provided to support the goals of the South Cobb Development or Canton Highway Plans? Each program would be broken down by functional and operational costs. These costs would provide a true picture of departmental and interdepartmental efforts to achieve a stated goal. This methodology also provides a metric with regard to the execution of the budget, e.g. is the program meeting its budgetary goals?
There are so many expenditure increases scattered throughout the budget, e.g. increased contributions to the contingency fund, added positions, merit raises, etc., that there is a strong argument for restoring millage rates to 2011 levels at an accelerated rate. Clearly the money is there or there would not be so many plus-ups in the budget.
A stronger reason for restoring the 2011 millage rates is connected to the gift that keeps on giving — transferring revenues from the Water System to the General Fund. It’s the classic robbing Peter to pay Paul and is an undisclosed tax on the bills of all water customers. All water customers should be asking, “What added value they are receiving from this revenue transfer, i.e. what programs in the County budget are benefitting from these funds?”
Despite assurances from the County last year that the County Pension Plan was healthy, the Pension Board requested $5 million to augment the fund. If the program is that healthy, why ask for the funding? The simple answer may be that the County’s pension fund is facing the same unfunded liability issues as other counties throughout the United States. Is this year’s request only the tip of the iceberg? The issue is nowhere to be found in the budget highlights.
Finally, the SPLOST funds should be added to the budget. County resources are used to support the program and these costs should be reflected in the document. Such a move would provide a sole source for all County efforts regardless of their funding source.
I am certain that the preparers of the County budget did their best to make it transparent as possible. My suggestions would make it even more transparent and provide the County residents with a better sense of a direction Cobb’s future. As the saying goes, money talks.
It is asking much for the Commissioners to pore through the hundreds of pages associated with budget development and execution. But that’s part of their responsibilities. By doing so they would ask many if not more of the same questions that I did.
We can do better and now is the time to do.
Retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce of east Cobb ran unsuccessfully last year for Cobb Commission chairman.