MOUNT VERNON — The county’s recent budget problems might make one wonder why governments have more problems dealing with budgets than businesses. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges.
The business world is one of continuous reaction and adjustment to changing conditions, dominated by sales, said Lois K. Hanson, manager of Paragraphs Bookstore in Mount Vernon.
“You are always reacting to what you think you can sell,” Hanson said.
She said she works closely with store owner Anne Storan to control inventory, keep track of overhead expenses and allow for sufficient profit margin to pay for employees and future expenses.
Although competitors’ pricing is taken into account, Paragraphs has found its niche and is more service driven.
Hanson said Paragraphs caters to regular customers and the buying patterns of local residents. She and Storan hand-select books based not merely on reviews, but also on what is most likely to move quickly off the shelf.
“We know our audience,” Storan said, adding that even in the recent recession, customers have remained consistent in their preferences, giving some consistency to how the store operates.
The closest comparison to government might be the areas of sales (business) and votes (government). In the business world, if there are not enough sales made, the business may go under. In government, if an elected official does not satisfy his or her constituents, he or she may be voted out of office.
Elected officials who serve as department heads are comparable to a store manager. Just as the store manager must work closely with the owner, elected department heads must work closely with the Board of Commissioners. In the business world, final decisions rest with the store owner; in county government, the final decision rests with the commissioners.
“Ultimately, the commissioners will have to do the cuts,” acknowledged Commissioner Teresa Bemiller.
However, she said, the commissioners should not stand alone in making cuts that many will find painful. Because no one knows each department better than the department heads, Bemiller said they have to be closely involved in the process.
“They are elected officials, too, and they need input on their budgets,” Bemiller said.
Commissioner Allen Stockberger said the budget process in county government is different than that of the federal government, which often operates at a deficit.
“We are mandated to operate in a balanced budget,” he said.
By law, the county must balance its books, sometimes forcing drastic cuts, such as the ones Knox County will probably be seeing in the 2010 budget.