03/24/07 — Finding balance: Schools, Medicaid compete for county’s budget

View Archive

Finding balance: Schools, Medicaid compete for county’s budget

Have you noticed how much talking there has been lately about how many bills there are to pay and how little money there seems to be in the county coffers to cover them?

It is not an unusual call — governments never have enough money — or taxpayers willing to provide the funds. So, we have to decide what to spend where and how much to authorize.

And like it or not, it is getting very, very close to the time when Wayne County voters are going to have to decide if they are going to fund county building improvements, cover the Medicaid gap and/or take care of school facilities needs.

None of us want to think about it. Paying for these improvements means more money out of our already straining household budgets.

So, perhaps it is time to think about the bigger picture.

Most of those who live here want their county to grow and to attract more business investment and residential growth. That is a plus for all of us.

And most of us want to take care of our schools. They are educating this community’s future leaders — and are a draw for new growth themselves.

But we have budgets, too, and they can only handle so much tax at one time. So, before we spend money, we need to know that it is going to be used efficiently.

As the Wayne County commissioners begin talking about their appropriations for next year and how they are going to use the surplus they have been hoarding in their reserve account, they need to keep in mind that this county’s taxpayers are willing to pay for a future for their community, but only if some priorities are set.

One of those priorities has to be educational opportunities that lead to job growth.

One of the reasons Medicaid costs are up is that there are more people in this county who need government assistance — health and otherwise — to make it. And why is that? According to the state, this county is considered to be near “full” employment. So why is there so much demand for assistance?

The answer might be because there are more than a few people who are underemployed — either because they do not have the training or because the job opportunities are not available for them to provide for their families.

So, maybe, this year’s budget ought to focus on making it possible for more people to get away from the grip of low-wage employment and into skilled areas that bring larger salaries and more stable incomes.

And that starts with schools and other programs that give people the skills they need to make it.

Now is the time to commit some serious money to this county’s next step — not just to expand buildings that provide government services, but to get people out of them and able to stand on their own. Assistance will then be for those who are in need of temporary help and those who really couldn’t make it without health care or other services.

That way everybody wins — and there is more money for everyone’s pocket.

This year’s budget ought to make that a priority.

And maybe, just maybe, Wayne County taxpayers might feel a whole lot better about investing in their county’s future.

Published in Editorials on March 24, 2007 11:56 PM