Budget madness

The new fiscal year begins on July 1 – three days from now – and government agencies must have budgets in place before that deadline. Anyone familiar with budgeting – or government – can easily imagine how difficult that process can be.

With the deadline bearing down, its not unusual for the end of June to be a bit frantic for those agencies. Still, several local developments this week have shown us a form of “budget madness” we haven’t seen before.

At Tuesday’s Barbour County Board of Education meeting, officials learned of a $90,000 discrepancy in the recently approved school system budget.

The funding earmarked for state Public Employees Insurance Agency payments for Barbour school system employees was underestimated in the budget by $90,000.

Officials said PEIA?normally provides a preliminary number, for the county’s budgeting purposes, that is a ballpark figure of how much will be required in payments for the year. A second number is sent later, and is usually “a $5,000 to $6,000 difference,” Barbour Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super said.

“But this one is a big difference,” Super said.

Well, yes, $90,000 would count as a big difference. Our other local county school systems don’t seem to have been hit with such a drastically different “second number” from PEIA.

Barbour school officials seemed confidant Tuesday that they could make up the difference by using money from reserve funds, but we think this discrepancy needs to be investigated and explained, not brushed aside.

In this week’s second example of “budget madness,” on Wednesday, a representative of the Tucker County Ambulance Authority demanded money to help balance the agency’s budget. The Tucker County Commission offered money. The Ambulance Authority rep promptly refused it.


Take it from us, it was a confusing meeting. The Ambulance Authority’s Larry Armbruster seemed to be trying to set a new “budget madness” standard Wednesday: he harangued the commissioners, left the meeting, came back, and then threatened to shut down the Authority altogether.

At one point, when Commissioner Mike Rosenau pointed out that the County Commission voluntarily provides hotel motel tax funds to the Ambulance Authority, Armbruster yelled back, “Well, if you don’t want to give us anything, don’t!”

Let’s play nice now, kids. No need to shout at each other.

Even more astounding than the rudeness Armburster displayed was his answer when commissioners asked the Ambulance Authority to provide a budget prior to today’s emergency meeting on the issue.

“You folks let us know what you are giving us and then we will come up with a budget,” Armbruster said. “There is no sense in us putting together a budget until we know how much we are getting. Then we will take that to our board.”

That’s not the way it works. Agencies submit budget requests to county commissions detailing what their costs will be and how much funding is required to cover those expenses. That way taxpayers’ money goes where it is most needed and isn’t wasted.

Clearly this is “budget madness” season, and the pressure to make all the figures come out even can be very stressful. But our public officials are expected to conduct public business in a professional, adult manner. Budget mistakes can be fixed, but sometimes tarnished reputations can’t.