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I thoroughly enjoyed reading Levy County Commissioner Marsha Drew's July 2 Williston Pioneer article in which she exhorted the local populace to participate in the decision making process for the upcoming 2009/2010 county budget. I took Commissioner Drew's message to heart and made plans to attend the county budget hearing held at the Bronson courthouse on July 7 at 1 p.m. I even took a little time to look at her website which is where my confusion began.
I'll readily admit my lack of knowledge regarding local government and how it operates but looking at page upon page of Levy County salaries and expenditures did little to educate me. I assumed that the hearing itself would clarify things for me. I was wrong about that.
The atmosphere of the county budget hearing was not what I would call “public friendly”. I don't mean that I, personally, felt unwelcome as a member of the public but I did feel out of place. Although it was obvious who the commissioners were, since they sat at an elevated table and had name placards in front of them, I really had no idea who the other people in the gallery were. The individuals presenting their budgets weren't formally introduced before speaking and it took a lot attentive listening on my part to figure out who they were. It would have been nice to have an overview of the process before the budget presentations began but it seemed like everyone else there knew each other and what they were there for.
As tedious as it was I managed to glean that the 2009/2010 budgets for all of Levy County needed to be 5 percent less than the total of the 2008/2009 budgets. This was apparently mandated for everyone and most people appeared compliant. It was implied too that some county employees would lose their jobs because of this overall budget cut. There was talk about the dire state of our economy and it was mentioned that next year's budget cuts would be even worse. Everyone seemed accepting and even resigned to these facts.
I left that hearing feeling downhearted especially since I didn't feel like I could contribute anything to help solve the problems facing Levy County now, next year or the year after that. I believe citizens should be involved in the workings of their local government. I think a lot of the red tape should be peeled away to make the processes more transparent. Too many people stay uninvolved in local, state and federal matters because the language is too confusing, the procedures too cumbersome and their elected officials unreachable. In other words it takes more effort and time to become an effective participant in government than it is worth. An effort, on the part of government, needs to be made to make government more accessible to everyone.
Personally, I plan to learn as I go and grow as I learn. I intend to be at the next county budget hearing and the one after that. I might even get to know a few names along the way. Perhaps I'll see you there as well.