Cut reserves firstPublished 4:40pm Saturday, October 13, 2012
On Sept. 11, Mower County commissioners approved a double-digit tax levy increase for 2013, noting as they did so that they would try to craft a budget that allows a smaller increase. In the month since, budgets and levies have not reappeared on the board’s agenda, leaving taxpayers to wonder what progress is being made. In the event that commissioners need ideas about where to find levy-reduction ideas, here are a couple to consider: reserves and lobbyists.
Like most governments, Mower County maintains a variety of reserve funds. The question, at a time when the economy is as bad as it has been in decades, is whether any government can in good conscience increase taxes when it already has a reserve fund. The reality is that taxpayers who are struggling to make ends meet and who often have no reserves of their own should not pay to maintain the government’s reserves. The best place to conserve (or reserve) funds is in the pockets of the taxpayers; when the county — or any government — needs to tap its reserves, that’s a time for a tax increase. But not before that.
Likewise it should be difficult for a county, or any other type of local government, to justify spending taxpayer dollars on lobbyists — although that is exactly what most do in an attempt to influence the Legislature. Mower County’s lobbying expenditures — about $3,000 – were were relatively minor in 2011. That’s less than a tenth of what the city of Austin spent, according to a report from the state auditor. But why should one government entity spend taxpayer dollars to lobby another? It’s a crazy system that needs to be ended.
Managing taxes and finances for a county is a big job. A tough job. But some choices should be easy: Spend reserves before increasing taxes and stop paying lobbyists.