Commission vote raises concerns

Published 11:15 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pike County Commissioners seem to have taken a turn away from fiscal restraint and stepped right into, well, a mess thanks to a couple of ill-made comments at Monday’s meeting.

Commissioners voted this week to approve $10,000 in funding for a part-time staff member in the Pike County Soil and Conservation District Office. This request comes only a year after commissioners denied a similar request by Tammy Powell to hire a part-time staff member in the 4-H office, at a cost of $15,000. The 4-2 vote, which split along party lines, wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising was the comments made by two commissioners:

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District 5’s Charlie Harris, who justified the expenditure by citing the returns brought back to the county by the office, namely some $43,000 in federal funds for conservation projects last year.

And District 6’s Oren Fannin, who unfortunately said “Ms. Powell’s office doesn’t return a lot to us … We get some money (from the soil and conservation district).”

We suspect Commissioner Fannin wasn’t considering the incalculable value of the 4-H program on literally thousands of young people’s lives for the past 101 years, or the statewide recognition brought to the county by the involvement of dedicated adult leaders, or even residuals benefits to the local economy thanks to the agricultural and life skills participants have gained throughout the years when he made his comment.

While it may be difficult to quantify, we would certainly argue that the return on investment factor for the 4-H program is just as great, if not greater, than the Soil and Conservation District.

And that is where the commissioners have created their conundrum. By voting to fund the conservation district’s staffing request, they have negated their previous approach of fiscal restraint and likely opened the door to additional funding requests.

Now, how will they determine what merits funding for one group over another? And how will they explain to supporters of a particular agency, for example the 4-H with thousands of former participants, that their agency isn’t worthy of additional taxpayer funding?

Seems like commissioners have a bit of explaining to do.