Editorial: County budget an early Christmas lump of coal



One minute you’re driving on Easy Street and the next, you’re on Skid Row driving a vehicle held together by baling wire.

So it must seem for Alpena County residents today after learning this week the county went from being in a strong position financially earlier this year to beginning 2014 in the red.

As County Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said Thursday, one minute it looks like the county will finish the year with a healthy surplus and the next, commissioners are faced with the possibility of making employee layoffs and other drastic cuts.

How could this happen?

Why did no one at the county know this was headed in this direction? Taxpayers and residents deserve answers from county officials. Those responsible need to be held accountable. It is unacceptable to believe finances could make such a drastic reversal of fortune and no one saw it happening.

We aren’t going to point fingers, as we don’t know any more than you who that person is. Some might argue it should have been Treasurer Kim Ludlow, yet from what we’ve observed she seems to have been doing a pretty good job this year in her new role.

Others might blame Probate Judge Thomas LaCross, whose child care budget was discovered in October to be “grossly over budget,” causing a major portion of the current woes. LaCross wasn’t the only person seeing those expenses, however, and they just didn’t materialize “overnight.”

Some might blame the county board’s finance committee for not keeping a close enough watch on expenditures as county bills were being processed.

All of which is interesting for coffee table debate, but isn’t going to make the problem go away.

For now Alpena County residents need to understand there is no money for extras next year. County employees will have no wage increases, vacant positions might not be filled and expenses will have to be reduced. Hopefully layoffs can be avoided, but that is not guaranteed.

After rolling along most of the year in apparent good financial shape, the news these past few weeks has been disheartening. The mood swing at the courthouse has been dramatic.

With important economic development pieces for the country still in limbo, this news couldn’t have come at a worse time. Hopefully it won’t scare potential businesses away.

For now we need to dig in and deal with it. Toward that end work began Thursday at a budget workshop. It appears austerity will be the mantra for 2014.

Get used to it.