Budgets bring out the worst in us...

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By Lou Elliott Jones

I love summer. Summer is glorious in Florida.

It's hot, humid, sticky. Beer pool season.

It's also budget time.

I don't know who in their evil mind set government's fiscal year to begin on Oct. 1, but they ruin summer for everyone with it. There must be a special place in hell reserved for the person who came up with this idea.

The timetable has government body is struggling with balancing revenues and expenses into a budget during the hottest, most uncomfortable part of the year.

This year there are shrinking revenues, skyrocketing expenses, workers who have not seen a raise in years, folks who want a tax cut, folks without a job, and elections.

This is one bubbling stew spiced with egos, personality and pain that promises to get out of control.

And really, there needs to be a change.

Commissioners at every level of government set up these budget workshops where department heads march up, make their pitch, present some numbers and after four hours of this your body screams for relief. Let it be said that at this point the process is more painful for the person paying the bill who is sitting in small, cold, metal folding chairs with only a whisper of padding, while the public officials they elected are sitting in comfy, ergonomical chairs with arms to boot. Let's not mention the department heads who have straight-back wooden chairs for their discomfort.

I have dreams of meeting rooms filled with Lay-Z-Boys for the taxpayers and standing-room-only for the ruling class.

In the meantime, I get to see a commissioner who feels she has been disrespected publicly rebuking employees as if that was not the county coordinator's job and doing so as if everyone in the room wanted to be a witness to it.

It might be why a morning Kaffee klatsch has sent the message that "the hormonal women" on that particular board need to be replaced by men. They dream of the days of yore when all-male boards did not engage in such stuff.

There's the never ending "well-if-that-candidate-is-making-a-statement-then-I-should-too" so everyone makes a speech. And everyone is still sitting in those chairs.

And their head is swimming trying to follw the discussion about something on page 13 or 56 or a 3 percent increase that is not an increase but a cut and administrators that have been cut but maybe they should go back in.

Probably the worst moment came when one commissioner insulted the senior member of a board with "Put in your hearing aid before you try replying to me."

Then after not participating in the meeting for almost two hours, that elected official got up and stalked out of the budget workshop at least 30 minutes before it ended.

Officials snits can give tax-paying voters heartburn.

There's got to be a better way to do this with fewer speeches, more open discussion, respect for everyone, and shorter workshops.

Instead a marathon with every department head in attendance try having three departments in and devote two hours to sitting around the same table — on the same level — and look each other in the eye while discussing what's needed and how it will be financed.

Once everybody sits in those painfully hard wooden chairs and narrows their focus, I'll bet more gets accomplished with fewer hard feelings afterward.

And before next year's budget process begins, read a copy of "Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten."

Lou Elliott Jones is the editor of the Cedar Key Beacon and Chiefland Citizen.  She can be contacted at editor@cedarkeybeacon.com.