Because of the inclement weather which hit us on Sunday the annual State of the County address from County Executive Rick Pollitt was postponed. While the original indication was that it would not be rescheduled, Pollitt’s own statement leads me to believe otherwise.
I believe Pollitt’s spoken remarks – whenever given – will be of great assistance in discerning the direction Wicomico County will travel in 2011, for while the Annual Report released today is heavy on achievements it needs to be considered in the context of Pollitt’s prepared remarks. Most of what was included in the 24-page report dealt with items already completed or issues we already knew were in the pipeline, such as the upcoming comprehensive plan; however, the spoken remarks for at least the last two State of the County addresses were more forward-looking.
While we are doomed to repeat history we don’t understand, to me as a county resident the future agenda is the more important part of the program. “I believe that the time has come to grasp the reins of government with vigor and solid purpose to bring our community to its fullest potential” reads as a nice statement Pollitt adds to his Annual Report but gives little clue to how that goal is achieved. Obviously Pollitt’s reins will be yanked by the demands of a much more conservative County Council than he has dealt with in the past.
His brief written statement in the Annual Report also demands an end to the “moaning and groaning about how bad things are” and calls on citizens to become more involved. But will he follow his own admonishment if the state decides to pass the hot potato of teacher pensions on to the county? (Secondary to that is Pollitt’s stated desire to adopt the LEOPS pension plan for sheriff’s deputies – a state-run defined-benefit plan similar to the teachers’ plan that the state wants to offload. The prospect of change for educators has drawn the ire of the Maryland State Education Association.)
Furthermore, if the citizens are involved as Pollitt wishes but aligned against his interests, will he listen? Obviously there will be a number of issues where friction between the Republican-dominated County Council and the executive’s office will cause no shortage of heartburn for Rick and the executive branch. Contention could ensue over a number of issues, not just the budgetary process – leading contenders include the county’s comprehensive zoning plan, the need for a Public Information Officer, new land acquistion, and the prospect of an elected school board. On the other hand, talk of repealing the revenue cap – a favorite Pollitt whipping boy in the past – is most likely off the table, or at least on the far back burner.
Certainly it’s good that Rick has adopted a more healthy personal attitude leading to a leaner physique (as the report notes in a page about the Executive’s Council on Physical Fitness and Healthy Living.) But for the next four years, our fair county will most likely be placed on a strict financial diet where budgets will be lean and mean – that is, unless we can bring increased economic activity to the Salisbury area. It’s worthy to note that simply bringing back income tax collections to FY2009 levels would allow Wicomico County to roughly restore the spending cuts made in FY2010 to public safety and education – the shortfall in income taxes collected between the two fiscal years totaled nearly $4 million. We receive more income tax when jobs are created.
Needless to say, the chicken and egg scenario often uttered by Pollitt is that job creation depends on the quality of life, but we can’t pay for quality of life items with the reduced budgets brought about by a lack of job creation. Yet I contend that quality of life is created by people and not government policy – a better policy for business growth where innovation and entrepreneurship are encouraged will eventually place citizens in a position where they can invest in their own quality of life in the manner they desire. It’s up to all of us, and not the place of society to wait on the government to take the lead – in fact, ’tis better if government retreats out of the way.
Without getting to hear the remarks Rick Pollitt would have provided as context and guidance to the Annual Report, we are left with the sizzle but not the steak. In a county hungry for answers, let’s hope that the rescheduled presentation will occur sooner rather than later.