The Carroll County Board of Supervisors took a verbal beatdown from county citizens during a public hearing June 9 on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2008-2009 and the real estate tax levy with a proposed increase of more than 6 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Truly, this board can’t be blamed for all of those problems. After all, this board had to replace the $1.3 million the previous supervisors took out of the fund balance to make up the difference between revenues and expenses to balance the budget without a tax increase last year. Further complicating the problem this year were cuts in state funding that left Carroll to come up with funds it previously didn’t have to account for.
However, this board deserved all the negative comments it received about the time it came out of closed session for the public hearings. When a public hearing is advertised for 5:30 p.m. or shortly thereafter, Mr. Joe Public expects the board to hold the hearing at 5:30. Even 6 p.m. might have been understandable, but certainly not 7 p.m., 90 minutes after the published time.
Granted, the board has been scheduling closed sessions early in their meetings in order to get the county attorney out of the door as quickly as possible since he is paid on an hourly basis. That’s understandable. Given, the current state of the economy and the current budget situation Carroll is facing, the board should be taking every step it can to save money. But as one citizen put it while an overflow crowd grew more and more impatient waiting on the board, "Our time is important, too." Time is money, afterall, whether you are an attorney or a factory worker. Because of the long delay, several citizens had to leave before they could be heard. That is truly a shame.
The county holds many public hearings in which no citizens choose to speak. But on matters as sensitive as the county budget and tax increases, the board should take steps to ensure public hearings are held as close as possible to the advertised time.
All six members of the board apologized for the long closed session and for the fact that the public had to wait so long to be heard. Chairman Sam Dickson noted that the board would look at possibly having two closed sessions in the future — a short one at the beginning of the meeting for all matters that the county attorney would need to be present for, and a longer one at the end after all matters on the agenda had been finished. That’s a good idea and one the board should strongly consider. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give the citizens back the time they lost at the June 9th meeting.