September 29, 2008

County Finances

An external audit of Niagara County's finances shows that the county is in solid financial shape, at least for the short term. The long term picture is much less secure. With the county on the hook for potentially a quarter of a billion dollars in benefit costs for retirees, the auditor has stated that the county currently has no mechanism in place to fund these future expenditures.

Obviously county legislators from years gone by never gave this much consideration. If they had, the county wouldn't be in the position to have to fund these lavish benefit packages doled out years ago. But the fact remains that the county is on the hook. So what to do?

The county can't control skyrocketing health insurance premiums for employees, enormous increases in pension costs to continuously bail out the state retirement system, huge spikes in fuel costs and crippling Medicaid payments to fund the Cadillac programs for New York City's massive illegal immigrant population.

Despite the many expenses the county can't control, there is one that they can control - personnel. The county, which is planning to form a commission on property tax relief to analyze the external forces which drive our tax rate, should conduct an internal review of each and every job on the county payroll and the need for each job.

To their credit, the county legislature has made significant reductions in the number of county employees, reducing the number by about 300 over the past 3-4 years.

County Manager Greg Lewis likes to dabble in useless numbers. Give him this project with Human Resources Director Peter Lopes. Both of them seem to have an inordinate amount of time on their hands. On an unrelated note, does the county have job descriptions for each job in the county?

With personnel being the county's single largest expense, they must continue to reduce the size of government. The only way to do this is through the continued reduction of the number of employees.

There is not an industry in this country that is immune from layoffs, especially in these times of financial crisis. With a quarter billion dollar bill hanging over our heads, our children's livelihoods just may depend on it.

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