Editorial: Staff reductions aid county budget, but it's a one-year fix

When government budgets are unveiled, they are invariably described as "lean," "bare-bones," "belt-tightening," etc.

The taxpaying public, understandably, does not want to hear about "fat" budgets.

However, the county's $1.65 billion operating budget that the County Council will adopt Thursday — largely balanced by the departure of about 300 county employees — is an austere package by any measure.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has said the county will have 7 percent fewer employees this year compared with last year. This has been accomplished by offering early retirements and departmental reorganizations. No staff reductions were the result of layoffs or furloughs.

The budget also will not raise property taxes, continuing a no-increase streak that has lasted 24 straight years.

This comes at a time when the county must begin shouldering a new fiscal burden, teachers' pensions, which the state is in the process of transferring to the counties.

We are assured that this do-the-same-with-less strategy will not significantly affect the education children receive in public schools (52 percent of the budget is for schools), the quality of police and firefighter protection, the maintenance of the streets we drive on and all the other services that those on the county payroll provide.

In recent budget hearings, department heads gave assurances that technology and efficiency will make up for fewer feet on the ground in the county's service.

Such no-worries assertions may have merit, but residents will decide for themselves whether they are continuing to receive the results they expect for their tax money.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that budget balancing via staff reduction may well be a one-trick pony.

It works for this budget, but it is not likely to be a well that Kamenetz and the county can tap again in any significant way.

Barring a significant change in economic outlook, the real test of fiscal policy may come next year, when both staffing and the budget may have less room to budge.

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