Our View: Respect goes both ways
July 12, 2017
Last week, Sweetwater County Treasurer Robb Slaughter accused the Sweetwater County Commissioners of being disrespectful towards other elected officials near the end of the county’s budget process, and we’re inclined to agree with him.
Specifically, Slaughter noted a June 20 meeting where Chairman Reid West prematurely closed comment during the session. Slaughter alleged commissioners did not allow elected officials to speak to them about their proposed budgets. West’s response to Slaughter was he did not indicate he had anything to say at the hearing and input was minimal from elected officials during previous budget hearings.
In the past, we’ve called out boards for limiting public comment during controversial topics and while this situation revolves around comment for a proposed budget, our stance is the same. West should not have killed comments at that meeting as early as he did.
It’s difficult to immediately grasp how a proposed budget would impact an office. The county initiated an early out program impacting about 20 employees, which according to Commissioner Wally Johnson is roughly 10 more than they initially anticipated, meaning some of those positions will need to be filled. Also, a solid 10 percent cut may put some county offices in the same position as the Sweetwater County Assessor’s Office, which Deputy County Assessor David Divis said is unattainable because of a large contract his office has will need to be paid and can’t be done under the 10 percent cut. The office will have to seek a budget amendment from the county commissioners when the contract has to be paid.
Prematurely closing comments during the budget hearing not only limited discussion on issues like what the assessor’s office will deal with, it creates a budget that will need adjusting throughout the year, which might have been the point all along. The commissioners did not adjust the assessor’s office budget prior to the county budget’s 3-2 approval. Any office seeking additional funds will need to seek approval from the commissioners due to their statutory authority over budgets, which ultimately gives the commissioners power over how and what is done in county agencies.
The closure of a budget hearing prematurely can have a lot of impacts, some of which could be avoided. Ill will over feeling disrespected can hurt relationships between the commissioners and other elected officials who manage the services provided by the county. The commissioners should seek to mend fences in the near future.