“There seems to be some misunderstanding and I am going to apologize, I was probably not as artful as I would have wanted on the day that I said that. I was trying to give an example during carry overs the fact that we have a culture of savings. And I said that if something is budgeted at $5 we will work very hard to bring it in at $4 and save that dollar. It seems to be a very large misunderstanding our there that I have basically admitted that we budget $5 in this County when we know it only costs $4 and that’s just not true. So I apologize for my unartful speaking on that — I was trying to given an example that would be easy to understand, so please, maybe we can put this to rest that we do not over-budget the budget by 20%. That is not a policy of the Board of County Supervisors. So I just wanted to say that because I know it’s out there, but we don’t do that, I promise you.”
Melissa Peacor, January 22, 2013
This issue of spending, taxation, and so-called “carry-over” budgets has been bubbling for quite some time with PWC-centric blogs such as The Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince William County, The Alborn Foundation, and The Derecho just to name a few. They each have done outstanding work on bringing the entire process to light and every resident owes them a debt of gratitude. I do find it interesting that Ms. Peacor did not feel compelled to respond to the numerous posts written since she made her original statement last August and only now publicly addresses this after it hit the mainstream print media in PW Today. I guess local press still holds some power.
As for the substance of Ms. Peacor’s attempted explanation, it simply falls flat. As I wrote:
Between fiscal years 2007 and 2012, an average of $31.4 million per year in budgeted funds went unspent. That is nearly $75 for every one of the 419,006 men, women and children that the last U.S. Census determined are living in the county – $300 for the average family of four. The county’s surpluses ranged from a low of $18.7 million in FY 2012 to a high of $43.9 million in FY 2007.
. . .
There is a problem with the county’s budget process when its needs are overestimated by this much for six consecutive fiscal years. It is even more troubling that the only time it dipped below $20 million is after Ms. Peacor is said to have instructed agencies to spend down their funds so there would not be as much left over. That is exactly the type of thinking that has gotten our federal government so deeply into debt.
This is not a “culture of savings” as she attempts to claim. If it were, future budgets would have been adjusted accordingly and/or the savings would have been returned to the taxpayers who fund the county government. Then there is this:
“So I apologize for my unartful speaking on that — I was trying to given an example that would be easy to understand, so please, maybe we can put this to rest that we do not over-budget the budget by 20%. That is not a policy of the Board of County Supervisors. So I just wanted to say that because I know it’s out there, but we don’t do that, I promise you.”
It may not be a policy of the BOCS to do this, but it is apparently a practice that her office (and that of her predecessor’s office of which she was a part) engages in. And what is this with her use of “we” immediately following BOCS? You, Ms. Peacor, are NOT a member of the Board, you are NOT elected to your position, you certainly do NOT have the powers of a County Executive like elected ones in Maryland, and in fact you ARE an employee at will of the BOCS.
As for inartful speaking, I will grant her that. Just look at the crux of the language she used in her explanation.
maybe we can put this to rest that we do not over-budget the budget by 20%.
If you are putting to rest that they do not over-budget the budget by 20%, that is basically a double-negative (putting to rest and not) thus making it a positive. I think what she meant to say is that we can put to rest that they do over-budget. (Then again, no one ever accused her of being the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, including some of her most vehement supporters.)
The important thing is county government is on notice — the people and the press are watching them. Business as usual is over.
FYI, my PW Today column “View from the Potomac” will return next week as I was traveling last weekend and did not have time to meet deadline for this week’s paper.