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First of a series
Municipal Judge Alan Kirk swore in new county councilors Steve Girrens, Kristin Henderson, and Pete Sheehey, along with new county clerk Sharon Stover last week.
The priorities each of the new councilors has established as they prepare to take up the reins may signal a shift in alliances and also shed some light on how they will govern the next four years.
“If I have one thing I’m worrying about, it’s gaining an understanding of the systemic picture,” Girrens said.
“I do not have anything in particular that I want to see, any burning one thing that I’m pushing forward this next year. I think it would be more appropriate for me, as one of the seven and as one of the three new, to try to get a handle on what’s happening systemically,” he said. “From my point of view, the last thing that we need is to confuse the issue by coming in with one particular thing over weighted more than worrying about the systemic picture, and even understanding the systemic picture.
“In the next six to eight months I want to become as smart on the overall picture as possible, as fast as possible.”
The Republican rookie councilor and husband of outgoing council chair Sharon Stover may have a leg up on his other newbie counterparts.
All three councilors are focused on the recently revealed budget shortfall.
“Where it’s all going (county revenue) needs to be explained to us, all at the same time, so we can see the big picture. And that hasn’t happened yet,” Girrens said. “The ongoing councilors are going to understand that a lot better than the three new ones who have to catch up and see what’s going on.”
Girrens has been studying the budget and has solicited help understanding the issues from Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne.
“I think I’m in pretty good shape for when I start to get the major briefings from Harry (County Administrator Harry Burgess) and what he’s starting to do now to counteract this,” Girrens said. “But I also know that everybody has to be on the same page. You’re only as good as your collective understanding.
“Personally, I think the lab spending is about what it was three or four years ago. So why all of a sudden is the sky falling when three or four years ago it was a pretty good deal? $2.1 billion is still $2.1 billion.
“For a few years we had all those extra things coming in. When there are construction projects or if there are massive cleanup projects, we have to know that the revenues for those years are just anomalies, not the status quo.
“The lab has reduced people, but they’re moving in on a new steady state, too. And what is that new steady state?” Girrens said.
“There definitely will be an impact on CIP projects. There will be an impact on the scope and even the ones that do go forward; there might be an impact on their speed. So if you have five things going, you may end up with only four things going and only two going as fast as you originally intended, and then you can absorb some cuts that way.”
“I’m trying to be flexible. Flexible and patient,” Girrens said. “I just want to be a contributing member of the team. So you have to learn what best position you’ll be able to play, and you don’t know that until you all get huddled up.”