The three new county commissioners – Stoltz, Foss and Kannenwisher – have either completely reneged on their campaign pledges or they’ve lied to us.
Specifically, they pledged to create jobs and turn away federal and state grants. Not only have they gone back on these promises, they’ve done the opposite.
The decision to cut local jobs has resulted in 17 people out of work. To put it another way, they’ve put 17 families in economic turmoil without ever having made the financial case for cutting these positions, other than vague and unsubstantiated statements about a decrease in revenue. How putting people out of work helps the community, or qualifies as “creating jobs”, is a mystery.
They’ve also accepted state and federal grants, despite promising not to do so. In the case of the Hamilton airport, they not only accepted a $40,000 federal grant for a new and completely unnecessary environmental assessment, but they applied for it, though there was no reason to do so since the existing environmental assessment is perfectly valid.
They do have, however, two opportunities to redeem themselves:
1. They can immediately cut their hours and their salaries in half. This is allowed under Montana state law (state MCA 7-4-2107) in part “(2) Each board may elect to serve on a part-time rather than a full-time basis and receive part-time annual salaries based on the annual salary established in 7-4-2503(1)(a) for the clerk and recorder form of government.” This action does not require a public vote, only a majority vote of the commission. This has several advantages: It saves the taxpayers approximately $180,000 annually yet it still allows for what the voters said they wanted in 2006 – greater representation with a five-member commission. Cutting hours and salaries in half maintains the integrity of the public vote by keeping five commissioners – although with salaries equaling roughly two and 1/2 members. It also would demonstrate leadership since leaders lead by example; they don’t sacrifice their secretaries and other front-line workers by pushing them over the cliff in front of them.
2. They can eliminate the planning department. There is no law requiring county governments to fund and staff a planning department. Many Montana counties do not have planning departments. Only counties with rapidly growing populations and many land developments do fund them. Since there appears to be little, if any, land development underway in Ravalli County, funding a planning department to the tune of $235,830 annually (Preliminary FY 2012 Budget) seems a pointless waste of tax dollars.
3. Putting fewer dollars in the Reserve Funds would reduce the need in one year to eliminate 22 positions. This method could also be used to accommodate the need to cut any additional positions or staff as a result of the District Court decision re: JP Courts, Justice Clute and Justice Bailey.
Eliminating the planning department would have a side benefit as well: if and when a landowner decides to subdivide, s/he would have to hire a private consultant.
Eliminating the planning department would be an actual job creator, and would allow the new commissioners to meet their oft-stated goal of “getting government out of the way.”
These are three sensible solutions that can be enacted right away. It remains to be seen if the new commissioners were serious about their pledges or if they just want to collect a full-time paycheck.