Op/Ed by Tom Davis: The art of the (bad) deal

According to Mason County Commissioners, the reason for a tax increase initiative on the November ballot is because revenues are not keeping pace with the cost of providing services. But let’s not forget that the primary function of the commission is, precisely, to monitor those forces over time and take whatever appropriate, incremental, measures are necessary to bring about a balance.  Perhaps if the commissioners had spent less time micro-managing other departments and more on their own, mandated, duties we might not be in this situation.

While there is little doubt that increased costs and lagging revenues played a major role in bringing us to this point, the manner in which the commissioners managed (or mismanaged) public resources was a contributing factor.

Consider the following:

Big government operations involve layers of bureaucracy which increase the chances of inefficiencies through miscommunications. Conversely, local government is inherently more efficient because administrators work- or should work- directly with their staff.

Unfortunately, that is not the case in Mason County, at least not since the commissioners added a layer of bureaucracy known as “Support Services.”

While the official explanation for creating an entirely new and costly department was “to improve efficiency,” in practice, what it was (and still is) most efficient at is replacing underpaid skeptics with overpaid loyalists and insulating the commissioners from a looming specter of insolvency. To make matters worse, the more departments brought under the umbrella of “Support Services,” the more opportunities the commissioners had to mismanage the budget.

And so the stage was set; with rising costs and no new sources of revenue, operating expenses ballooned from $30M to $40.8M in three years; and each year the commissioners met growing shortfalls by drawing down cash reserves and redirecting funds. But you can only play a shell game for so long, and halfway through 2017 the money ran out and $1.8M had to be cut from the budget.

Now, taxpayers are being asked to choose between higher taxes, drastically cut services or financial insolvency. But before we throw more money at a failing system, the commissioners need to dissolve “Support Services” and return to the tried and true practice of working directly with their fellow public servants.

Otherwise, we’re just throwing good money after bad.

Tom Davis, Shelton