Unhappy as some city councilors might be with Lima's budget, it provides a lesson for those who propose to manage Allen County's.Lima might be the only government entity in the country today where elected officials are unhappy to have had cash on hand to begin the year. Some councilors are, shall we say, upset with the administration, particularly Finance Director Steve Cleaves. Carrying $4.7 million over from last year in such a challenging economy strikes most as competent stewardship of taxpayer money. A few others apparently believe it serves as evidence that Cleaves and Mayor David Berger have been exaggerating the problem.Clueless city councilors is a topic for another day. For now, the five candidates in two Republican primary races for Allen County commissioners should take heed of the competent stewardship of taxpayer money. That's been missing in the Allen County commissioners office.The five Republicans — Jay Begg and Lynn Mohler in one race, Paul Basinger, Dennis Fricke and Cory Noonan in the other — have begun their campaigning, but nothing much has been said publicly yet. The public campaigning kicked off in earnest Friday with Begg and Mohler speaking to Allen County Republicans. The other three will be there in a month. Between now and then, the five candidates will have plenty of chances to explain to voters their vision for managing a county that's seen better days.Begg and Mohler went first, so they'll get early criticism the other three can and should avoid. Begg and Mohler had limited time, so perhaps they also will be able to expand on Friday's performance. But neither gave much insight into how he'd be a competent steward of taxpayer money. Rather, they both suggested they might continue the recent habit in the commissioners office of wishing first, hoping next, and finally throwing up their hands in despair.Instead of listing spending priorities or outlining what current services might be the next to go, Begg and Mohler spoke of luring new jobs to Allen County. If only someone had thought of that during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Taxpayers should know what each candidate proposes, however uncomfortable, if the national economy slows, if state funding dries up further, if any of a number of very bad but very possible things happen.Does anyone agree with Commissioner Greg Sneary that nonmandated spending, such as funding for Veterans Memorial Civic Center, should end? Would anyone push for deeper across-the-board cuts than the 3.84-percent reduction the three current commissioners have continued into this year? What about again trying to raise Allen County's sales tax rate?Everybody wants more jobs and the expanded tax base that would come with them. What's the alternative plan? That's something the five Republicans need to answer soon, and it's something Democrat Connie Miller and Libertarian Don Kissick should be ready to answer come fall. Lima and Allen County are on opposite ends of what can happen when the economy sours. One began making gradual cuts in anticipation of dwindling revenue. The other waited until there was no choice but immediate, drastic cuts. See if you can guess which group of political leaders did what:“We were aware of the state's budgetary problems in 2008 and we began to prepare for it,” Cleaves said last week to members of Lima City Council's Finance Committee. “That is a large part of why we have this carryover today.”“I think it shows that all the doom and gloom surrounding us really hasn't shown up here,” Commissioner Sam Bassitt said in May 2008, when a first-quarter report showed an uptick in sales tax. (Bassitt, Sneary and Commissioner Dan Reiff took awhile to learn that sales tax comes back to Allen County three months after shoppers actually pay it.) “It also illustrates the efforts we've made as a community to show we have a strong economy.”The commissioners took some flak for continuing to spend freely. To which Sneary replied that he'd read in a magazine that a recession, if one even came, would be shorter and milder than other recent ones. That short and mild economic downturn that might or might not come? It came to be known as the Great Recession.Lima was prepared. Allen County was not. Whichever candidates want to join Sneary in January owe it to voters to explain how they'd keep that last sentence from repeating itself.
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