County leaders set good example in local budget process

Feather Publishing

For the past five years, the Plumas County supervisors seemed to be in the headlines almost every week as they sliced away at the county budget.

Facing multimillion-dollar general fund shortfalls, the board agonized over some pretty drastic cuts. When it was all said and done, the county looked a little different than it had when the Great Recession began. The supervisors were forced to furlough, slash benefits and even fire some county workers. County departments were cut to the bone and funding for some institutions, once considered sacred, was eliminated completely. Funding for law enforcement, chambers of commerce, tourism and the arts was slashed. The Plumas County Visitors Bureau was shuttered.

It has been a painful time for the county. Many people questioned the supervisors’ priorities, and in some cases, even their competency.

Some will argue the county sacrificed public safety and our quality of life to avoid potential bankruptcy. But, in retrospect, many of the tough calls the supervisors made turned out to be the right ones. In most cases, they didn’t have a choice.

This year’s budget process has been relatively quiet. That’s because, thanks to cuts made over the last several years, the supervisors were able to deliver a balanced budget. And the county even has a little money to spare.

While Congress and the president are holding the nation hostage over the national budget process, threatening to bankrupt the richest nation in the world over ideological differences, our local leaders can sit back and take pride in the way they conducted themselves. Washington could learn something from a little rural county in northern California. If lawmakers would spend as much time negotiating as they do complaining to the media, we would have a balanced budget right now.

Unlike the attacks and name-calling on Capitol Hill, our supervisors’ personalities and ideals didn’t play a big role during Plumas County’s financial crisis. There was a lot of arguing in the boardroom, but there was also collaboration and compromise through the entire process. The supervisors took heat for some of their decisions — sometimes from this newspaper. But they did what they thought was best for all of us. It was common to hear them say “I don’t care if I don’t get re-elected” when they voted to implement another cut. They made the tough decisions we elected them to make.

Plumas County still isn’t in great shape. Many services have not been restored, and most departments are still operating in bare bones mode. The sheriff desperately needs more deputies. Our local tourism-reliant businesses need a boost. Hopefully, as we turn the corner on the recession, the county will be able to restore jobs and services.

And it looks like we are headed in that direction.

As of Oct. 12, furloughs ended for county workers. County offices will again be open on Fridays. The forced sacrifices of these workers saved the county a million dollars in a year.

Not only does the county have a balanced budget, it has a healthy $2 million reserve and a $450,000 contingency fund. The county also put money aside to hire a much-needed code enforcement officer.

Yes, things are looking a little brighter in Plumas County. Too bad we can’t say the same thing for the nation as a whole.

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