Editorial: Finding the Budget Balance

In his fiscal year 2017 spending plan, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet gave the new Board of Supervisors wide latitude to develop its budgetary philosophy.

Supervisors can hold the tax rate at the current level, forcing cuts in many current county government and school services. Or they can increase the real estate tax rate by as much as 3.5 cents—a rate that would even fully fund the School Board’s record $1.07 billion budget request.

These scenarios depict two very different visions of government. Remarkably, the tax bills don’t vary as much. For a home valued at $400,000, the bottom-line difference is less than $12 a month. That’s why it is important for supervisors to focus first on what they want their government to do, rather than the tax rate they hope to adopt.

Over the next several weeks, supervisors will have the opportunity to dig deeply into the operations of county government and also to review the School Board’s stewardship of tax dollars. For five of the nine members, it will be their first time through this exercise.

The budget mark-up process is a time to evaluate and adjust service priorities.

The previous board came out of the chute four years ago focused on transportation; today, road construction projects comprise the largest segment of the county’s construction plan. With hard work, this board can find the balance required to have a similar significant impact without breaking the bank or abandoning fiscal discipline. That is the challenge.

Supervisors will not find that balance by entering the review process with a predetermined stance to hold down taxes or to increase them. Nor is the goal of preserving government jobs or pay raises a useful starting point. Those positions limit opportunities for the board to reshape the government in ways that better serve the county’s residents and businesses. That should be supervisors’ shared goal as the

One thought on “Editorial: Finding the Budget Balance

  • 2016-02-20 at 2:13 pm

    I have no idea what this editorial means. When I determine how much I should spend in my household budget, should I determine what we “need” and then just tell my boss to pay me whatever that costs? That’s called fantasyland.

    The majority of the budget, and certainly the proposed increase, comes from the school board. The BOS cannot tell the LCSB how to spend the money. So it makes no sense just to take LCSB’s word for it that the proposed budget represents needs. You can say that the BOS should spend money based on guidelines (e.g. enrollment growth + CPI + 1%). Or you might even have the BOS can the schools survive with a smaller budget (the answer is obviously YES).

    When LCSB claims that all its proposals are “needs”, their budget should be DOA. It’s just a joke. If we are honest, about 80% of that budget is a need and 20% is a want. That’s not to say we should reduce it by 20%. We can and will continue to fund wants. But by not distinguishing between the two, we just prove how political this process is.

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