Our State Legislature is constitutionally required to balance the state budget.
And this year, like the last few years, there is a likelihood that at least some of the money to cover the hole in the budget will come from the set-aside the state has created through the Rainy Day Fund. With a $350 million hole in the state budget, our legislators are hearing loud and clear that it’s not just raining – it’s pouring, and we need help.
Counties and cities are facing similar budget deficits as severance tax revenue dwindles and the population continues to fall in much of the coalfields, taking with it businesses, income taxes, and other sources of local revenue.
Unfortunately for these local finance offices, most counties and cities do not have rainy day funds they can dip into to weather this challenging economic climate (now categorized as a state recession).
There’s a very real question about how our localities can respond to declining local revenues, especially in light of the fact that continued declines are predicted for the foreseeable future.
How can we right-size our communities to be the most efficient and vibrant that they can be?
The theory of right-sizing is nothing new, particularly for communities that had an explosion of abandoned properties after the mortgage crisis.
But there has been very little study and application of right-sizing for shrinking rural communities in order to improve their efficiency and address looming (or in our case ever-present) budgetary crises.
We know we are going to have to figure out how to make our communities work better as a system. How can we best serve our communities realistically? More than half of West Virginia’s counties have less than 25,000 people in them. One-fifth of the state’s counties have less than 10,000 people!
Right-sizing entire counties that are this small will take creative thinking that has to be generated by people who know this state best – our communities.
The vast majority of our counties are too small to support significant administrative oversight and infrastructure. And many of the ones that used to have ample economic support are declining and can no longer support the infrastructure or people they once could maintain.
A similar idea was suggested by former state Board of Education member Wade Linger in his resignation letter published in WV MetroNews in early February.
One of Linger’s many comments was that too much money was being spent by the school system to keep up administrative offices in each county, and too little for teachers. He suggested that the 55 county school systems be consolidated into approximately 30, organized around geographic locations of students.
What do you think the answer is to tighten our belts while improving our communities? Would right-sizing work in West Virginia – and should it start with government consolidation?