We realize that this is something of a stereotype of a farmer, but Leo Cakounes, R-Harwich, takes no bull. As a matter of fact, his no-nonsense style has served him well over the past four years during his first term as a member of the Barnstable County Commission.
He inherited a financial mess at the county and has helped right the foundering ship. At the same time, as the current chairman of the commission, he has done his level best to maintain decorum and decency, even as he has had to contend with the occasional upheavals and distractions perpetrated by fellow Commissioner Ronald Beaty.
During his first four-year term on the Commission, Cakounes has had his hands full. Coming into office, the county was facing a fiscal crisis, with costs threatening to outstrip revenues. Cakounes and others recognized the severity of the situation and invited a state-led audit of the county’s books. That investigation uncovered a host of questionable business practices that past commissioners, county managers, and members of the Assembly of Delegates had allowed to occur over many years.
Under Cakounes’ leadership, the Commission has made significant strides toward reestablishing a sense of fiscal stability. He helped lead the charge to refill the county’s coffers, reducing spending and building up a reserve fund from virtually nothing to a more-healthy $2 million.
During the same period, the county’s bond rating with Standard & Poors has climbed substantially; when Cakounes entered office, the county had no rating, leaving it unable to borrow any funds. Today, the county has a AA rating.
Cakounes also lays claim to helping rein in spending. He noted that the county had $11 million in bond authorizations in 2014. Today, that number is down to $4 million, and the county is no longer using free cash to meet those financial obligations.
At the same time, Cakounes is the first to admit that the county still has a ways to go in terms of putting its financial house in order. In an interview with the Cape Cod Times Editorial Board, he argued that expenses continue to rise at an unsustainable pace, and that the county’s three avenues for revenue – a tax on member towns, income from the Registry of Deeds, and rental income from county real estate – have remained flat.
At the same time, he said he remains optimistic about the county’s prospects. He pointed out that, despite the fiscal challenges, there have been no layoffs, and said he looks forward to re-examining and renegotiating current rental agreements with the state. For example, he said that the state needs additional space to perform its duties, and that the county should be more than happy to oblige, helping to boost county revenues. He has also supported a move toward a more representative commission that would boost its numbers from three to five.
Cakounes has also represented the voice of reason when Beaty’s pronouncements on everything from killing sharks off our shores to his personal feelings concerning the #MeToo movement have threatened to engulf the Commission in the same sort of rancor that regularly swamps Washington, D.C., these days. Instead of letting these distractions spiral out of control, Cakounes has moved quickly to respond to Beaty’s ramblings, including through the creation of a county policy on the use of social media.
Cakounes’ opponent, Ronald Bergstrom, D-Chatham, has pledged to put the Cape’s environment, affordable housing, health care, and transportation issues at the forefront, but has provided little in the way of specifics as to how he would move these issues forward. Bergstrom does boast a wealth of experience at the county level, including a dozen years as a member of the Assembly of Delegates.
And there are areas where we disagree with Cakounes, most notably his support for a measure that cut money from the county’s Human Rights Committee. But Cakounes has also demonstrated a willingness to work with others to help steady the county’s fiscal picture, using a common-sense approach to financial security and not at the expense of those employed by the Commission. He has also gone on the record as saying that he would support restoring the HRC funds if the Assembly does so as well.
For these reasons, we support a second term for Leo Cakounes as county commissioner.