Second verse, nothing like the first.

Preparation of Baker Countys budget for 2001/2002 isnt likely to spur the rancorous debate of last years budget process.

And it isnt the absence of any fishy-sounding proposals that has put the budget within $274,000 of balanced at a time when, last year, budget makers faced a $1.7 million divide.

This year, county department heads havent had to come before Commission Chairman Brian Cole with their hat in their hands, looking for funding.

Theyve had to hammer out their funding. Together.

That means justifying your requests to your peers in departments with similar missions.

It also means finding savings in the overlap between departments.

Most importantly, it means the people who have to execute the budget on the ground the county department heads have had to buy into the process and take ownership of the final product.

Compare that to last year when, in an effort to trim another $150,000 from the budget at the behest of the County Budget Board, Cole delivered a slate of proposed cuts to several public safety departments. The result was a standoff between Cole, answering the countys budget needs, and the department heads, answering their departments needs and the publics demand for service.

Coupled with the poorly timed proposal to change Coles chair position to half-time while allowing him to accept the job of Baker City/County economic developer, last years budget process turned ugly in a hurry.

In fact, it was an employee of a department slated for cuts who, in the midst of the budget process, filed the first recall petition against Cole.

If any such cuts have to be made this year, it will be the department heads themselves who are called upon to identify opportunities for further savings and, if need be, make the sacrifice.

And that makes a big difference.