Mike Ritz is a member of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners:

The priorities for our County Commission in 2009 must be all about the challenges the national and local economy are imposing on our fiscal situation.

In anticipation of some fiscal challenges, the County Commission for the current FY 2009 budget year froze compensation for all employees, offered early retirement for eligible employees, and set up an administrative process to reduce employment by not automatically filling positions vacated by retirement, death, or employees leaving for any other reason. What we did was immediately challenged by certain elected officials and the deputy sheriff organization. To date the Commission has fought off these challenges.

We did not anticipate the great national economic melt down of calendar year 2008 with the attendant loss of jobs, devaluation of home values, home foreclosures, business closings, loss of consumer confidence, and deterioration of family retirement accounts/nest eggs/education accounts.

The new County reappraisal for 2009 will not have the normal 5 to 10% growth expected from the reappraisal process every 4 years and may produce a countywide value even less than the reappraisal value of 2005. It appears that the Commission will have to establish more draconian efforts with the 5800 county positions. About 70% of the County General Fund is spent on employee compensation, benefits and retirement. We cannot manage the budget downward without reducing employment. Capital spending will also have to be slowed down if not eliminated.

Quite frankly the challenge facing the Commissioners as a group and individually will be the constant efforts of the employees and their organizations to secure more funding for their departments and functions. It is difficult to keep saying no but we must face the fact that we represent the citizens, taxpayers and voters first. These people are losing jobs, having their compensation cut, losing their homes to foreclosure, and seeing their nest eggs disappear. We can be assured that these people do not want taxes to grow and would accept some local government shrinkage if that is what it takes to avoid tax increases.

I hope that those who want to see the County budget managed with no tax increase will contact their elected representatives. It is quite the truth that the only people sitting through the County budget hearings are those seeking more money.