First of all, as a serving county commissioner and not up for reelection, I speak only for myself. But I need to comment on the question, which only seems to come up in election years, of whether we should have three or five commissioners.
Thankfully, it’s not up to politicians to decide that question. It’s up to the people. Whatever they say the number should be, then that’s what it is. That’s why we have five commissioners now. Before the election of 2006, a petition was circulated, and the required number of signatures were obtained to put the question on the ballot. During that election, the proposal was approved, and consequently two additional commissioners were elected in 2008.
So now, 10 years later, some are advocating that we should go back to three commissioners. I don’t propose to advocate here for either three or five because both have worked. From 1888 to 2008, 130 years, there were three commissioners. The county survived. From 2009 to the present there have been five commissioners. The county is surviving.
So why go back to three? From what I hear, those who advocate going back to three say that the current five-person commission is working well, but if we eliminate two, the county can saveapproximately $100,000. Another statement put forward is that a five-person commission is a luxury we can’t afford.
I pondered that and did some cursory research. Would you believe that a five-person commission today doesn’t really cost any more than the last three-person commission did in fiscal year 2007-2008? Huh?
In FY 2007-2008, the budget for the three-person commission was $271,000. In FY 2018-2019, the budget is $ 282,000. Not much difference there. Those budgets reflect the total cost to support the commission — salaries, benefits, travel, supplies and the mandatory publishing of public notices and records. Some of the line items have changed over the years, but the total cost is what is important. What has really happened is that the five-person commission has scrubbed the budget so that today we really get five commissioners for the previous price of three — generally speaking.
Not trying to convince you of anything here; just laying out some interesting information. Would reduction to three eliminate some expense? Yes, it would to some extent, but maybe not as much as is touted by proponents of the three-person commission. For instance, all commissioners don’t cost the same. As an example, I personally don’t use the medical benefits available, so I guess you could say I’m a cheap date. So, the real cost depends on who gets elected. But it’s up to you to decide if the significance of any saving would be worth the effort.
And what is the effort? What’s involved? Well, some public-spirited citizen, including county commissioner candidates, who really think we should go back to three commissioners has to put forth the effort to circulate a petition and get a certain number of signatures (this is a pretty onerous task) to get the matter put on the ballot for the 2020 election. If the matter was on the ballot and failed, then there would be no change. If the proposal to reduce the commission to three passed, then that would be reflected on the ballot in 2022 when no more than three commissioners could be elected.
So, that’s how it all works. It’s the people’s choice. But the thing is you don’t really have a choice until the issue gets put on the ballot and you can vote on it. And it’s not going to get put on the ballot until someone does the work to circulate a petition and obtain the required number of signatures.
So, until that happens, I’m afraid all this talk about whether to have three or five commissioners is just a lot of political rhetoric in yet another campaign. Actions speak louder than words.
Tom Ringley is a current Sheridan County commissioner.