Since many NH towns are starting to roll up their sleeves and get into the fundamentals of budgets to prepare for spring elections I thought this story sent to me by a friend in NY to be worthy of some debate.
The story found in full HERE discusses Suffolk County NY and their choice to cut the $600 to pay Santa from their $2.7 billion budget.
The county executive said he could not justify carving out $660 from his $2.7 billion budget to pay David McKell, 83, a World War II veteran and former homicide detective, to don his Santa suit for the tenth year running and greet children on Long Island.
"How do you justify that expenditure when a health center is losing money?" Steve Levy, the Suffolk County Executive, said in an interview.
He said that some 750 county employees were facing layoffs as a result of budget restraints, including what he described as a $20 million cut in state aid to the county's health system.
"Let either the private sector come forward with a donation, or, better yet, let's tap the volunteers in the community," he said.
Levy was quickly called a Grinch by his opponents.
One of the comments to the article caught my attention because they hit two of the budget discussion red flags I always listen for.
For god’s sake! Its only 600$! For the children I will pay for him!
"It's only"... I can't even count how many times I've heard expenses defended by someone saying it's only $600 or it only comes out to the cost of a cup of coffee a year etc. If it's that low cost then a town should have no problem finding someone willing to donate to cover it.
Then there's the "for the children" argument. If we did everything ever suggested for the children, those children's parents wouldn't have any money left over to raise those children in the first place.
Both of those points aside this one raises a couple interesting points...
We have the debate about whether or not a town should fund celbrations in the first place. I say no. There are already plenty of businesses more then willing to step up and do this.
The NY city Thanksgiving Day parade is one of the largest in the world with it's Santa being the main character in several movie versions of Miricel on 34th street. Macy's is more then happy to have their name linked to that one.
In nearly every mall in America you can find Santa sitting smiling listening to children telling him what they want for christmas with many families (my own included) going out of their way to head to the mall to get their children's pictures taken with him.
When you look at a $2.7 billion budget, $600 would hardly even be noticed and is more then likely far less then the surplus of some departments but cutting back government spending has to start somewhere. In an area that has proven to be one that businesses are more then willing to step up and hire someone and at at time that people go out of their way to volunteer I see that as a reasonable area to cut even if "it's only" $600.
It reminds me of a budget debate I had going over the Merrimack town budget several years ago. There was a line item for somewhere around $50. Now the over all budget was over $20 million at the time. As we went through line by line I asked the department head what the money was for since it was in a line item titled "Misc.", he didn't know. I looked in past budgets and the line had been there year after year but had never actually been charged against. Given this, I motioned to cut it out of the budget so the town wouldn't be taxed for it even though it was such a small amount it wouldn't amount to anything. People on the committee actually argued against cutting it even though even the department head couldn't name a reason to have it in the budget.
If small amounts that aren't needed or could easily be raised through public donations or replaced by private businesses willing to step up and fill the void are argued against that much then it's no wonder politicians are unwilling to stomach making hard choices that actually have real impacts and as a result we get what we're seeing all around the world with governments failing financially. Over spending didn't happen over night. It's happened when a bunch of "it's only's" added up over a long long period of time.
I'd be interested in hearing what you all think as well.