Thomas Paine was right when he said: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” As a Washington County commissioner, I can attest to that old saying. Operating a government, regardless of size, is certainly a difficult and a frustrating endeavor.
Lately, I have read several editorials that have been critical of some of the commission’s actions and decisions. Frankly, I must admit, I often leave committee or commission meetings just as confused and discouraged as the press seems to be.
I can’t speak for others, but I think it’s important for the citizens of Washington County to know that my main goals as a county commissioner are to see that the necessary services are provided for the citizens of the county and to encourage economic development.
I have been criticized several times for allegedly slowing the progress of a resolution or a budgetary issue. I will admit that often the criticism is accurate. My actions, however, are not intended to be seen as an obstacle, but as an attempt to obtain clarification of a proposal on the floor.
We, as commissioners, are charged with providing necessary public services. But we also have the responsibility of approving those services only after obtaining a complete understanding of the requested need and the expense associated with it. Only by this method can duly elected officials ensure that the individual tax dollar is being justly spent. The issues we tackle are often extremely complex and it’s important for all members of the commission to be well informed. That is especially true of the budget.
Many citizens may not realize it, but Washington County currently has the largest fund balance on record. Our total county budget, not including county schools, is approximately $60 million. Our total fund balance, including the general fund and every other department, is approximately $24 million. That is a remarkable amount of money to have on hand while at the same time borrowing an additional $10 million for various capital projects. My point during the budget process was exactly that.
Regardless of whether the money can be obtained at a low rate, it still has to be repaid. The commission has been very frugal with expenses over the last four years and even though many cities and counties near us have raised property taxes, we have been able to avoid such. That in my opinion is responsible stewardship of the tax dollar and I am proud of that fact.
Therefore, I will continue to ask questions, vote my conscience and pledge to the citizens of the county that I will remain attentive and make my decisions based upon a thorough examination of the issues at hand.
Mark Ferguson of Jonesborough represents the 6th District on the Washington County Commission.