No one ever said that serving as an elected official would be easy, but governing in today’s economy brings the financial challenges of serving a growing population with less funding. As the new year begins, state and local leaders will be faced with reexamining revenue streams and adjusting fiscal year budgets accordingly. Even though the economy is showing signs of a slow recovery, difficult decisions still lie ahead. Today’s leaders must have the fortitude to make tough decisions while also laying the groundwork for a brighter future.
At the state level, Governor Nathan Deal will offer his own unique approach to running a leaner state government and dealing with the state’s budget deficit when he takes office in January. Like many of his predecessors, he has expressed a goal to make government more efficient. However, he is likely going to have to take a more comprehensive approach in changing the structure and function of state government as a result of the budget situation.
Governor Sonny Perdue also had to downsize state government in recent years, resulting in drastic budget reductions in some state agencies. Moving ahead, it will be more difficult than ever to reduce the state budget without causing a direct impact on service delivery.
When Jimmy Carter ran for Governor of Georgia in the early 1970s, he also campaigned on the issue of making government more efficient. One of his legacies was the reorganization of state government which occurred in 1971, merging several hundred agencies, boards, bureaus and commissions into less than 30 state agencies. He also created three super agencies — the Department of Administrative Services, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Human Resources — that condensed more than 62 state government functions. State government had not seen such a massive shake up since the Reorganization Act of 1931.
Government, and the economy, are said to be very cyclical. This year marks 40 years since then Governor Carter reorganized state government with the primary goals of saving money, avoiding duplication of services and improving service delivery. While the times have changed, these three goals remain relevant today. Whether Governor Deal and state legislators charged with developing the state budget decide it is time to reorganize and condense state government again remains to be seen, but they will certainly have to focus on the core government services of providing for the health, safety and welfare of the state’s citizens.
Over the years, state officials have clearly re-evaluated the structure and function of state government, including the programs and services offered. Likewise, counties should take a similar inward look.
As the new year begins, set aside time for planning and evaluation. Take a comprehensive look at the county’s structure and programs. Challenge department heads to identify cost savings. Review service provider contracts to determine if the county can negotiate better rates. Consider opportunities for functional consolidation of county and city services and look at regional initiatives for services such as E-911. Make sure the county is taking advantage of all cost-saving opportunities, such as ACCG’s inmate heath benefits program. As the budget preparation season begins, now is the time to start evaluating options and developing a long range vision for changes that require multi-year implementation.
While the reality of governing day to day may be hard, it is important to keep in mind that this day, this week, this month, and even this year are just a snapshot in time. By developing a unified vision, county commissioners can actively work together to achieve goals that result in stronger communities with a promising future.
(Ross King is executive director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. Which provides leadership enhancement, cost-efficient services and public policy development and advocacy on behalf of Georgia’s county officials their local communities. For more information, visit www.accg.org.)