Although a lot of the focus in Senate Bill 621, the Marion County Government/Power Grab reform bill, has been on whether to eliminate the at-large City-County Council seats, the legislation includes much more substantive, far-reaching provisions that are, in my opinion, far more important than whether four politicians keep their part-time jobs.
Part of SB 621 would give the Mayor more authority over the budget. Currently, the Mayor and other county officials submit a budget, the council votes, the Mayor signs or vetoes and that’s pretty much it. By giving the Mayor more budgetary control we “marry accountability with responsibility”. None of the County offices (Auditor, Clerk, Coroner, Prosecutor, Surveyor, Assessor or Sheriff) play a role in voting or signing a budget. The Mayor and the Council are publicly accountable for the finances of the city. As a result, the County offices are disengaged but more specifically they are not held publicly accountable for their spending and the adjustment of taxes that go to fund their spending.
When was the last time you saw people marching in the streets demanding the Sheriff quit spending so much when the Council and the Mayor raise a tax to fund him? No, of course you don’t. They go after the Council and the Mayor. Do you see people getting upset when the Sheriff says he needs more funding to adequately provide public safety and the Council and the Mayor keep cutting his budget? Yes, you do. Why? Because people already believe the Mayor has this authority and, in fact, he doesn’t. The result is that the Sheriff (and related offices) know they are unaccountable.
Practically speaking, you can’t balance a $1.2 billion budget with a $50 million operating shortfall if you can only control (reduce) spending of $700 million of that budget. This is either a unified system of government or it is not but we can’t continue to be financially “half pregnant,” our issue are too great.
And if you are still not convinced that the Mayor needs more budgetary control, take a look at how the Sheriff’s budget has grown since 2008, even though control of the police department was put back under the Mayor’s office.
? 2008 – $87.4 million allocated / $92.6 million spent
? 2009 – $85.7 million allocated / $85.3 million spent
? 2010 – $93.8 million allocated / $97.2 million spent
? 2011 – $103.5 million allocated / $109.8 million spent
? 2012 – $101.7 million allocated / $113.2 million spent
In the past three years the Sheriff has overspent his budget by more than $20 million. Now the Sheriff would say that it is the cost of inmate health care that is driving this overspending. There’s no doubt that inmate costs are rising, but how does that explain overspending by nearly $3 million on staff in 2011 and 2012 and more than $1.1 million on supplies in 2012? Is this what Marion County Democrats are defending? If SB 621 is a power grab, then so be it. Someone has to act like a fiscal grown up around here.