Ask the voters
After deciding not to ask voters this year for a sales tax to fund early childhood programs, the Eagle County Commissioners have now asked the staff for governmental equivalent of looking under the couch cushions and emptying out the penny jar to find $1.82 million per year to fund those ambitions.
As anyone with young kids will attest, it’s hard to find high-quality, affordable child care in this valley. Good child care is a load off the minds of working parents, and can also help put more people in the valley’s workforce, which is again stretched thin thanks to an improving economy.
On the other hand, the commissioners’ plan to find this substantial amount of money comes with some pain to other services the county provides.
One of the ideas involves taking $100,000 per year from the county’s animal services department. That’s money that could go to two full-time positions that have already been cut.
The county’s animal services department is already stretched thin, and no one is available on weekends to answer calls. That little dog wandering on your street, too afraid to come to a human trying to help? Unless the owner reports it lost, the dog is on its own.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is already short-staffed, particularly in the county jail, and Sheriff James van Beek says the department needs a person dedicated to serve civil lawsuit paperwork, a position that existed before the county laid of dozens of people a few years ago. That job may be left to patrol deputies, taking them away from law enforcement.
What other existing services might be subsumed by the commissioners’ desire to create what will surely be one of the biggest bureaucracies in local government?
The biggest concern, though, is the use of reserve funds to help pay for the program. The county is already deficit spending,, and has been for a few years, primarily to cover the fast-rising cost of health insurance for hundreds of employees.
This plan envisions spending another $2.4 million throughout four years from the county’s reserve funds.
Those reserves have been painstakingly rebuilt over time, having been spent down to just more than the legal required minimums by a previous group of spendthrift commissioners. That reserve spending was a big reason the county laid off more than 70 employees in the wake of the Great Recession.
More important, county revenue collections still haven’t recovered to their previous highs. That means the county’s budget is still thin, and in some important areas.
If the need for a new $2 million per year county program is as pressing as the commissioners and their consultants believe it is, take that case to the voters. If they agree, residents will be willing to provide the extra money needed to fund it.