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t’s that time of year again. Time for me to get on a stump — time for the “wailing and gnashing” about what is needed for sound county budgeting. To the younger political generation, I may need to first expound a little about the definition of a stump speech. “Stump speech” is a term used today to describe a candidate’s standard speech, but in the 19th century the phrase held a much more colorful meaning. Te terminology became widespread in the early decades of the 1800s, and stump speeches got their name for a good reason: they often would be delivered by candidates who stood atop a tree stump. Te ability to give an effective stump speech was considered an essential political skill. Although a candidate usually did his homework and peppered the speech with local references, most of the speech remained identical from day to day. Te need for a stump speech stems from a desire to keep candidates focused on their message and to consistently present certain arguments or point out certain aspects of their political platform. My old “stump speech” about county budgeting may be rather standard — but I want to pepper it with some ideas and tools that should help counties develop a plan that will bring them back from the brink of financial disaster. I know some think I’m using a soap box — but I prefer to think of this as my “stump speech.” It is no easy task to run a county government — and we have 75 of them in Arkansas ranging in population from about 5,400 to almost 383,000. With dwindling resources, the task becomes even tougher. Most counties are struggling, especially in the area of general operations, which covers many areas of required services. What are the required areas of service? Tey are these, as set forth in Arkansas law in § 14-14-802(a):


1. Te administration of justice through the several courts of record of the county;

2. Law enforcement protection services and the custody of persons accused or convicted of crimes;

3. Real and personal property tax administration, including assessments, collection, and custody of tax proceeds;

4. Court and public records management, as provided by law, including registration, recording, and custody of public records; and

5. All other services prescribed by state law for performance by each of the elected county officers or departments of county government.

Everything else that a county can legally provide for its resi- dents is secondary and can be found listed in § 14-14-802(b). A variety of pressures affect county government finances, including declining or static tax bases, stagnant levels of state aid, escalating healthcare and employee benefit costs, the lack of man- date relief, the need to ensure costly public safety and one that


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To Me...

many probably don’t think of — too many rigidly restricted revenues. Te latter is a very real obstacle to appropriating and expending money where it’s needed, but by no means is it the only culprit. County government, more than any other level of government, is expected to provide more for less. County government provides for every citizen of the county — even those within municipalities. County government serves the entire populace of Arkansas just as the state of Arkansas does. Understanding the financial condition of their county govern- ment is important for elected officials as they work to align revenues with public demands for services while maintaining financial solvency. Tis task becomes even more important when the economic and financial environment, over which you have little to no control, goes up and down like a yoyo. And it’s been down more than up in recent years. Te Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) defines a government’s financial condition as “a composite of a government’s financial health and its ability and willingness to meet its financial obligations and commitments to provide ser- vices.” Te challenge in conducting these analyses then becomes how to appropriately measure these concepts. I’ll just flat tell you, that’s way beyond this old country boy’s pay grade. I believe what we have to do here in Arkansas to achieve better and realistic county budgets that will help put our counties back on sound financial ground is use some good com- mon sense. You do it this way. You use common sense to:

Eddie A. Jones County Consultant

• Discipline yourself to spend the time to learn and under- stand the county’s financial condition, including the monthly flow of expenditures, the flow of revenues, the revenues available to a county, whether those revenues have been availed for the county, how those revenues can be spent, what the county must fund, what the county does not have to fund. In other words, get a handle on the county budget process and what’s available. Know the law inside and out in order to maximize the funding available to your county.

• Be creative in solving your problems. Many of us fall into the trap of doing things the same old way. Just because it’s al- ways been done that way in your county doesn’t mean it should still be done that way. Tere may be a better way. If there’s a better way to do it and stay within the law, then do it. Do what is in the best financial interest of the county and still provide necessary services and compensate fairly.


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