• Arne Mortensen

BOCC meeting of 19 July 2016

The 19th of July Tuesday meeting of the Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners was packed with items, but, as usual, was lightly attended. The audience numbered 20 individuals, of which 4 or 5 were not county employees or specific agency representatives, the latter typically there to explain why the county should fund their programs.

As often is the case, there is little chance that the public can figure out what is going on with items on the agenda. After the BOCC fielded questions on items such as granting $673,309 for child and youth prevention services, one commissioner said that the contracts being discussed are available on the county website. The implication of that statement is that citizens should read the full contract. The correct approach should be that:

  • Commissioners distill the essence of the contracts to the key points so that the public can see clearly the core issues. One can read tens of pages of contracts and still not get a clear idea of details or ramifications. The commissioners can do this effectively because they are (or should be) deeply involved in the issues.

  • Commissioners present the full picture. What happens if we don’t vote to give this grant? Money granted is an opportunity loss for the county to use it elsewhere, which might have a higher priority… or to lessen the tax burden on the people. Currently, the commissioners present only one side, and never provide a cohesive rationale for the expenditure/allocation of funds.

Other points are:

  • Despite repeated requests for data to show that county money is being spent effectively, on these many program items, once again there was no data at all about the effectiveness of the programs voted on at this meeting. There is enough government history in this county that the citizens should demand to know what they are buying with their money.

  • The array of intertwined agencies involved with any one issue still stuns me. Funding goes from one agency to another agency, and eventually a contract is let. But what is left to service the intended beneficiaries after all these administrative costs are absorbed. I could not get an answer about how much ultimately gets to the targeted people.

  • Once again, all the motion items (12 of them) were voted on and passed unanimously. This just doesn’t seem right; what is the point of the meetings or the vote, if the action invariably is always the same?

  • There was a vote for a $250 increase to $385,248 for a contract with the State of Washington Department of Health. Two points: Is this really an item that needs to clutter an agenda that already largely is populated with opaque issues? And, would not a conscientious department head be able to handle this without incurring a cost for this motion that likely exceeds the amount of $250?

  • One item included a cost increase of $242,280.20. The silliness of including numbers to the penny is classical bureaucracy; there simply is no way to project down to the dime. The way to do this is to manage to a budget that is allocated based upon available funding and county priorities, and that number should be rounded to the nearest $100 or 5%.

I can see plenty of room for improving the management of county resources.

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