Public AWOL at budget hearings
July 24, 2005 - One of the great annual rituals of democratic governance occurred recently in Yuba-Sutter.
You may have missed it, but you apparently didn't miss much.
Every year around this time, local governments - the folks you pay taxes to in one way or another - adopted their budgets, what your typical newspaper reporter would call a "spending package."
And these spending packages, at least for the cities, counties and larger school districts, eat up a considerable amount of money.
For Yuba and Sutter counties, it's more than $100 million each.
And so how does the local populace react when these big numbers are hurled about?
There's not much in the way of reaction. In fact, Yuba County Supervisor Mary Jane Griego had it right when she gazed out into the mostly empty public-seating area of the Board of Supervisors chambers and intoned, "It was almost eerie that there weren't any objections."
These are, after all, your tax dollars at work: the tax dollars you pay directly through property and sales taxes, and the tax dollars that go to the federal and state governments and eventually trickle back down to the locals, in a good year.
The budgets are supposed to go through a public hearing before they're formally adopted. Local governments strictly adhere to that rule. Your county supervisors, city councils and boards of trustees always hold public hearings on those spending packages.
Then they wait for the public to speak. Most of the time, at least here in Yuba-Sutter, there's not much of a public out there to say anything.
Occasionally, a budget issue that's easily understandable will generate some heat, but not very often.
No, when it comes to budgets, as far as the public is concerned, that's better left to people who can understand them, which usually means, city administrators, city managers, school officials (appointed, not elected) and county administrators.
You need a degree in government accounting to slog through these weighty documents. And there aren't many people around here with enough expertise to criticize the proposed budget before it becomes the adopted budget.
TOO MUCH PUBLICITY? This isn't a sports column, but it's noteworthy that the New York Times mentioned Yuba-Sutter twice in the last month in its sports section.
On June 17, the Times profiled Paul Goldstein, the 100th best tennis player in the world, who participated in a tournament at the Yuba City Racquet & Health Club.
"One thing Paul Goldstein
can tell you about Yuba City: It isn't Paris," the Times observed. Yuba City is "a small, sun-baked city in the Sacramento Valley," the Times noted.
Peter Bavasi's arrival in Yuba-Sutter also caught the attention of the Times.
Bavasi, the former big-league executive, is helping his brother, Bob, run the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox.
The Times took note of Peter Bavasi's sojourn to what it called "the prune capital of the United States."
Marysville, the Times said, is "about an hour north of Sacramento (and) has a population of about 13,000."
Harold Kruger's column, Off Beat, appears on Sundays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call him at (530) 749-4717; or fax him at (530) 741-0140. You can also write him at the Appeal-Democrat, P.O. Box 431, Marysville, CA 95901-0431.