Elected officials should serve taxpayers, not special interests
Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series, gleaned from a recent interview with state House Rep. Bob Steinburg. Here, we examine the ways in which counties can reduce costs.
CHOWAN COUNTY – The most common default mechanism to increase a county’s revenues is to raise taxes, which requires no creative thinking.
Elected officials and department heads, at all levels, should look at every item requiring expenditure and perform a cost/benefit analysis, judging the request on its own merits. Doing so will chop a lot of significant money out of a budget.
However, officials must have a long-range plan of five to six years. This requires both political will and the ability and willingness to make hard choices at each step along the way.
It is the responsibility of all elected officials to make the difficult choices on behalf of the taxpayers that they are sworn to serve. If those elected officials judge a situation on the basis of constituent interest — rather than taxpayer interest — they are not doing what is right for the taxpayers and, ultimately, attempts to reduce a government’s budget will fail.
Rep. Steinburg believes the difference between the Conservative roadmap, and the ones that the Liberals were following, may have ultimately led to the same destination, but the specific path between the two was vastly different.
He believes governments followed the liberal playbook for several years but now the electoral tide has changed, with the Republicans in charge. This is not to say that the liberal methods never worked! But now we are in a completely different environment, and the electorate has spoken with respect to how they want our state to be governed.
The conservative approach has been to expand our economy while creating jobs and reducing taxes. Rep. Steinburg believes department heads who reduce their cost of operation with the resulting savings to the taxpayers, should share in the revenue saved. But the commissioners need to take the lead and let the department heads know how much needs to be cut, sending them back for more reductions if necessary.
Doing what is right in the interest of the taxpayer should be in the DNA of all department heads and elected officials should not be forced to demand the savings. However, reality is that personnel matters and other influences, weigh heavily in these matters.
Likewise, elected officials cannot judge the appropriateness of cost considerations in the light of getting reelected. If these cost matters are considered in the context of the constituents wish lists, and the reelection efforts of local officials, this does a disservice to the taxpayers, says Rep. Steinburg.
In this context, Steinburg related the circumstances in which Chowan County found itself several years ago. The State of North Carolina had served notice on the County that they were going to take over the County finances, which was reported at the time and was the subject of another recent article by this newspaper.
At the time, Ed Goodwin was the Chairman of the Chowan County Board of Commissioners. Based on this condition, Goodwin went through the entire budget for the County and worked with the department heads, and the other County Commissioners, and they turned around the finances in such a way that it negated any need by the State to take the County over.
This avoided a meat cleaver approach to cost reductions.
In the end, the reductions were achieved, the taxpayers were served, and the County was no longer under threat by the state. Steinburg believes that if Chowan County could achieve the needed savings, without raising taxes and without massive layoffs, then any County can do the same thing if they have the political will to do so. He realizes that there are numerous financial challenges from constituent groups and individuals of all types. But in his fiduciary role, he applies the same thought process used in Chowan County scenario.
In that regard, he cannot go wrong.
Reporter’s note: In February 2014, Ed Goodwin was the Regional Representative on the staff of Gov. McCrory and among his various responsibilities, he went to the Pasquotank County Commissioners meeting to introduce himself, offering to assist with any need from the Governor’s office. During the discussion, one of the county commissioners made reference to
Goodwin’s prior achievements in Chowan County, and asked him if he could explain the things he did to eliminate the need for a state takeover.
Goodwin described the various challenges and what actions he and other officials took. At the conclusion, he offered to come back and meet with the Pasquotank Commissioners to discuss these matters in more detail so that they could evaluate what he had done and whether any of it would work for them. The Commissioners seemed to listen intently, and politely, but to this day, no one has inquired further.