To the editor:
Creating a county budget and setting the tax levy is one of the most important functions that a county commissioner performs. That makes it an excellent topic for discussion during this campaign season. How my opponent and I respond to concerns about the Wright County budget highlight the differences in our approaches. Voters have a clear choice.
I represent and agree with many citizens (some of whom have submitted recent letters to the editor in the Monticello Times), who suggest that the budget process is broken if taxpayers are charged for open positions and the money is used for something else, whether it is bringing down the levy or for “special projects.” A couple of editorials reference this as a “shell game.” Another editorial questions how open positions save money if the citizens are charged for them.
The public is also concerned that new positions were added to the 2013 budget at full cost to the taxpayer instead of others that could have been paid for by state funds with no impact on the county levy. During the budget process, I supported adding two “free” positions rather than two new ones, which, in addition to the “phantom” positions, will be charged to the public. I strongly believe that all spending decisions should be made on the basis of need, transparency, cost, return on investment, and, ultimately, benefit to the citizens.
I have researched models used in other counties, which produce more transparent and accountable outcomes: where county government spends money where it says it will; terminates unfilled positions in a timely fashion rather than keep them in the budget for other purposes; debates and prioritizes new hires on their importance to the public; and develops a plan to guide decision-making. Additionally, county practices that evaluate services, look at the needs of the institution as a whole, provide timely public access to meeting proceedings, minutes and documents, need to be implemented to further build public trust in the process and the results.
It is an achievement to be one of the lowest counties in terms of tax expenditures per person and I pledge to keep it that way or reduce it further. However, I will work to improve government processes and services at the same time. This will provide greater assurance that taxpayer money is spent wisely and citizens are getting the best value for their dollar.
I believe this is the sensible approach.
Editor’s Note: Thelen is a District 2 Wright County Commissioner candidate and current county commissioner.