Another View: A revenue-sharing moratorium means setting clearer priorities

Another View
By: Jack Duran District 1 Supervisor and Jennifer Montgomery District 5 Supervisor
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In recent months, there has been much debate about the county budget in general, and the spending program known as “revenue sharing,” in particular. As supervisors, we are faced with the immense responsibility of overseeing a county budget in excess of $700 million dollars. Among other things, it includes public safety, health care, parks and support for the elderly, children and other human services. Much of it has been impacted by the uncertainties of a difficult economy and substantial state budget cuts. That’s why we have both set out to champion a culture of fiscal prudence within county government, and to prioritize expenditures in a way that protects the vital services at the core of our mission — irrespective of future budget contingencies. In keeping with this commitment, revenue sharing is among the programs we’ve identified as requiring reconsideration. As you may know, revenue share permits each supervisorial district $20,000 ($100,000 total) in discretionary funds to provide to various non-profit groups. While, over the years, these funds have supported many worthy organizations and services, the program has not been without its share of controversy — including being the subject of a County Grand Jury report, a steady stream of publicly voiced concerns from taxpayers, and a two-track system for selecting beneficiaries so lacking in citizen involvement and oversight that some have labeled this program the “Supervisor’s Slush Fund.” When you match these issues against Placer County’s limited financial reserve, uncertain budget future and the fact that we are already cutting county workers and services, the notion of creating any sort of long-term revenue share “entitlement” is flatly absurd. That said, both of us believe that revenue sharing has noble roots. We have worked closely with many charitable organizations through the years, and understand first-hand the important work these organizations do in our community, and the challenges they are facing in these tough financial times. But as public servants, responsible for the oversight of hard-earned taxpayer funds and the vital public services that keep our neighborhoods safe and care for those most in need, we believe it’s time to start making tough choices. Therefore, at our upcoming budget workshops next month, we will be asking our board colleagues to consider a one-year “revenue sharing” moratorium. After the 12 month moratorium, based on our budget situation and public input, the board may consider (1) continuing the moratorium, (2) resuming the program, or (3) eliminating it in its entirety. If the program is resumed, it must be reformed. Funds are currently distributed along a two-track system. In District 5, a supervisor-appointed citizens committee (The District 5 Benefit Fund) evaluates requests and makes recommendations. In Districts 1-4, disbursement recommendations are currently at the sole discretion of supervisors. Ultimately, if circumstances enable the resumption of revenue sharing, we believe the current dual-track system should be replaced with a more efficient process that puts people — not politicians — in charge of the vetting and selection process. In the final analysis, if we have learned anything from the continuing budget debates in Washington, Sacramento and here in Auburn, it is that good governance begins with clear priorities. While a temporary moratorium of the revenue-sharing program is not a solution to our long-term budget challenges, it is the necessary first step towards setting those priorities. And Placer County taxpayers deserve nothing less. If you agree, we hope you will contact your supervisor and ask them to join us. And no matter where you stand on revenue sharing, we would welcome your input and participation in the upcoming county budget workshop where the revenue share issue will be decided — the afternoon of Aug. 9 at the board chambers in Auburn.