Call me crazy.
This past month I’ve been attending the annual budget workshops of our coastal towns, and have (almost) enjoyed the experience. I’ve learned a lot about how municipalities operate and how difficult balancing a budget can be in a year with a depressed economy and decreased property values. It will be difficult for any municipality to avoid either tax increases or reduced services — no one will come out unscathed.
Different towns have chosen different tactics to find solutions to this year’s budget process and that makes sense considering the unique needs of each community. Still, with next year’s budget process appearing no easier than this one, maybe our communities should explore commonalities that might provide less painful solutions.
Two examples come to mind:
• Delray Beach has assigned a seven-member community task force to explore ways to cut expenses and generate revenue without slashing services or jobs. This independent board has located nearly $1.6 million in potential revenue.
• Other cities are exploring ways to outsource their services to other municipalities. Everything from planning and building services to trash collection to library and public safety services.
With our coastal communities sharing so many of the same needs and concerns, wouldn’t it make sense to look at implementing some of these ideas into the 2010 budget process?
Wouldn’t our towns benefit from a beach-area citizen advisory board to explore resource sharing and help identify sources of revenue and cost savings?
For example, if Ocean Ridge, Briny Breezes, the county pocket, St. Andrews and Gulf Stream agree it’s a priority to have fire-rescue emergency services nearby on the east side of the bridge, an intralocal advisory group could explore the options and help to negotiate the most cost effective way to make this happen.
If Briny Breezes should select not to sell its property, this group could work with the town to find funding sources for self-development and/or infrastructure repairs that would benefit residents and the surrounding communities.
Our coastal towns already contract with the county, neighboring cities and private contractors for many services: water, sewage, trash collection, police and/or fire rescue services. As a result, our town budgets must consider the increases imposed by the larger governments who are facing even more difficult budget years than our own.
I’m not suggesting everyone sit through budget workshops. I’m not THAT crazy. But maybe this year’s budget constraints will raise awareness and prompt people to get involved.
If we act now to tap into the local brain trust — and you can’t tell me some of the best and brightest in our country don’t live here — maybe we can find creative solutions to increase our quality of life and save a few taxpayer dollars as we look ahead to 2010.
— Mary Kate Leming, editor