Do Nye County finances need a public oversight committee?
Why does the county have a problem managing its fiscal budgets? Why does there appear to be a disconnect when county finance is a matter of focus? I can’t answer either of those questions yet there does seem to be a continuing problem that has never been solved.
From my observation, the county finances are a mess right now. Our county manager Pam Webster has openly stated that we are experiencing a budget shortfall, the exact numbers seem hard to nail down as a member of the public, I have heard it said to be in a range of $2 to $3 million. This is a frightening number, when we consider that there are only four months left in this fiscal year to right this ship.
As I review the past few years, I’m struck by what appears to be little if any oversight in managing the flow and outflow of revenue.
We had the issue a couple of years ago where the former County Treasurer, Mike Maher, was months behind issuing monthly financial reports. Eventually he resigned claiming health as the reason, and Richard Billman filled in the remaining months of his term. Why this was allowed to simmer for months only the commissioners can answer, yet it is clear that every taxpayer and citizen of the county was in the dark as to what the true state of our finances were. How can any government meet its goals if the state of its finances remain a mystery?
In the fall of 2012, the commissioners were seeking an investigation of former sheriff Tony DeMeo, over what they described as his department refusing to stay within the approximately $12 million budget. They stated he was over budget $1.03 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, and had overspent by $700,000 the previous fiscal year. In his defense, his attorney Adam Levine remarked that none of this was intentional on the sheriff’s part, and that the sheriff had been notified on May 22nd, mere weeks before the fiscal year ended on June 30th, that his department had a budget surplus of $800,000! The sheriff was not charged with any crimes. The question remains, why was the sheriff’s department told it had a budget surplus?
Were we in prosperous times here in the valley, and the county coffers were overflowing with yearly revenue surpluses, then this would still be a major concern, yet not of such a critical nature as we now find ourselves. For those who attended the January commissioners’ meeting in Pahrump, we were treated with the report by an independent auditor, in which he chastised the commissioners for the fiscal state of affairs we were in. It was embarrassing as a member of the public to hear him give such a sobering performance. How did we get from June 30, 2014 to this point? Why are we in the red? What is being done? Again I ask these questions.
When a member of the public pushes the commissioners on matters, we are frequently reminded that we live in a republic and that we the people chose these commissioners to manage the affairs of government. We voted these five commissioners to serve as our voice, yet did we intend to have our county finances managed in such a haphazard way? Across the land, communities have what are termed public oversight committees. They are made up of private citizens who are charged with looking over the shoulder of elected officials and their staffs. They keep an eye on finances, with the goal of insuring that county goals are met, and if adjustments need to be made in spending to balance out revenue projections with reality, that they can be made.
I often wonder if the fraternal nature of government becomes an impediment to managers and elected officials when it comes to reducing staff and spending. I suppose it is human nature to cringe at the need to lay off a friend or relative in government; to reduce or cut back entirely in a project. But this is the nature of reality, none of this should be surprising since 2007 revenue has been dropping for the county. An oversight committee can act as a buffer to these personal relationships in advising on staff cuts and spending priorities. In the end, the needs of the community to have a well-run ship must supersede in individual wishful thinking on the part of government.
Again, do Nye County finances need a public oversight committee? I believe they do based on past experiences. So the question then is will the commissioners establish such an oversight committee, or will it continue along the path we are now on?