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A tough balance in our economy

A hard balance must be struck to make sure Ennis stays fiscally viable as the country’s economy continues its slow hobble.
We’re just not spending as much money as a nation these days. Our confidence in the market has flagged.

And in these times, personal finances are enough of a burden for the average bear, so the task of wrapping our heads around the problems that Ennis’ leaders must tackle is more than many of us would wish to handle.

Be that as it may, it’s a somewhat unique situation the city government finds itself in with respect to many of its peers and neighbors. There haven’t been any furloughs or layoffs, and with that, the city’s priority for maintaining its public workforce is clear. The budget is looking to be airtight again for 2010-11.

Ennis will continue to support operations at their current level for another year. There will be the same numbers of policemen on the street, city workers handling water treatment and billing, city hall employees answering phones and so on.

The hard balance is in the question of whether we can continue to maintain that level of public employment. It’s been a question, certainly, and keeping ourselves and our city’s services as robust as possible has its advantages.

With early predictions that the reappraisals and tax roll adjustments coming in the next few months will significantly reduce revenue, there’s always the need to ask ourselves if we can stay afloat, though.
I’m definitely for helping people maintain jobs. Every job has a ripple effect.

Still, a good question to ask is whether we can run our city’s government with the same kind of nose-to-the-grindstone attitude that governs the city’s private enterprises, where the recession has infringed on employment levels and profit margins deeply enough to put some places right out of business. Others have managed to keep going after making necessary adjustments to make sure the money coming in is enough to float the overhead, so to speak.

Can we do that as a community?

Is the situation to the point where our industrial base — a bedrock of strong property and tax revenue numbers that has provided the largest part of our base for a number of years — can’t hold us up anymore? It isn’t yet, but signs point to that answer changing in the years to come without potent growth in the economy nationally and regionally. We’re tied into that economy with our strong industrial sector.

What seems clearer is that public employment in the schools here will be a question that has much more immediate pressure once the state addresses its mammoth budget shortfall. With an $18 billion hole to fill (I tend to trust appropriations guru Rep. Jim Pitts’ assessment), there are only so many places the state can turn for cutbacks. Public education is a huge part of the state budget, and it will have to take a turn in the hot seat.

That’s a tough sell here, too. Ennis has a strong sector of employees in the school district, with more than 800 on the rolls at the last estimate I saw.

That makes for a good lobbying force of taxpayers against any kind of employment cutbacks. We don’t want to see the quality of our schools — one of our community growth mechanisms and a magnet for residents — deteriorating because of higher student-teacher ratios and less instructional effectiveness, either.

Tough balances to strike, indeed.

It’s apparent that we can’t go forward without those concepts in mind, and neither the city or the district is ignoring the demands of keeping those budgets balanced.

We can’t and won’t make the state mistake of plugging budget holes with one-time money, either, so no bandage can stop the bleeder if it truly starts leaking.

Ennis has a lot going for it that could help us ride the storm out, and we’ve done extremely well by comparison as our neighbors have struggled.

Knowledgeable individuals tell me, however, that it takes years for local governments to really feel the full effects of a downturn like this because it takes years for assessments and tax revenues to really dip, and the reverse is just as true.

Tight times will persist for several years before we shed the economic tension, it would seem, so there will have to be some tough examination of just how much public support our taxpayers can provide for the nearly 1,000 employees who work for us through the city of Ennis and the Ennis Independent School District.

All of this doesn’t even begin to touch on the county’s employment base, either, which is just another area of attention that needs focus during the summer budget-setting season.
Rest assured we’ll be paying attention.

Nick Todaro is the editor of the Ennis Daily News. He can be reached at nick@ennisdailynews.com.

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Posted by on Jun 30 2010. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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