County cuts spell changes in service

We don’t envy the Mesa County commissioners — or any local government officials — as they struggle with declining revenue but little reduction in the demand for services.

The county commissioners’ dilemma was apparent this week as they worked on their 2010 budget. The commissioners and County Administrator Jon Peacock must cut $26 million from the budget for next year, compared to what the county is spending this year. That’s a reduction of approximately 15 percent.

Peacock is hopeful that can be accomplished without laying off county employees. But Commissioner Craig Meis said he expects layoffs will probably be necessary.

It is an agonizing decision that managers understandably hate to face, whether they’re in the public sector or private business.

First, few people want to tell people they are out of a job, especially in an economy where there are few employment alternatives available. It’s all the more difficult if the employee has been a long-serving or dedicated worker, but his or her skills are no longer needed by the organization.

But it’s not just the effect on the laid-off workers that worries managers. There is also a cost to the organization. Whether a public entity or a private one, the employer is likely to have invested time and money in training a worker. And he or she may be difficult to replace when the economy rebounds.

A government entity such as Mesa County must also weigh the various interests of its constituents. On one hand, county officials must be good stewards of taxpayers’ money and work within the budget laws that prohibit deficit spending of the kind the federal government utilizes. On the other, it must attempt to provide as many of the services that many of those taxpayers want, and in some cases need. And there are debates, such as Meis and Peacock engaged in this week, about whether funding for capital projects should be cut to preserve operational funding.

We hope Mesa County is able to craft a 2010 budget that keeps layoffs to a minimum. But Meis, who has managed budgets in the private sector as well as for the public, may well be right that the budget goals cannot be met without some personnel cuts.

Whatever decisions the commissioners and Peacock reach on those issues, citizens of Mesa County should be prepared for some changes in county services next year. No organization can eliminate 15 percent of its budget and continue to operate exactly the way it did previously.


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