Budget Medicine Goes Down Hard
That lemonade may be a tad sour, but County Manager Cary McSwain was doing the best he could when the economy handed out lemons again this year.
His 2010-11 budget recommendation cuts the General Fund by almost 5 percent. Unless the Moore County Board of Commissioners finds other places to change the new budget, the tax rate will remain 46.5 cents per $100 property valuation. Hurt by the sharp budget cuts, unfortunately, are both the public schools and Sandhills Community College, as well as just about every area funded fully or partially by the county.
Employees who lose some of their benefits should think before complaining. At least they’ve kept their jobs, unlike some of their co-workers.
Of course, all of this may change by the time the budget is officially adopted at a June 7 meeting. The commissioners held their first budget work session Thursday night, and their ideas about the budget may differ from those of the manager. Some changes may not be politically expedient. However, McSwain held the budget in check and cut it within the parameters previously set by the board.
Cuts Come as No Surprise
At first glance, the summary shows an overall cut of 15.43 percent for the entire $126.9 million budget proposal, a figure that includes enterprise funds, special funds and capital reserve as well as the General Fund. That total spans such things as public utilities, the East Moore Water District and the Airport Authority.
From the standpoint of the average taxpayer, the reduction is a more modest but still impressive 4.98 percent for the $84.9 million General Fund, the term for the main operating budget. The General Fund includes the schools, Sandhills Community College and overall county operations.
Cuts were inevitable because of repercussions of an economy staggering from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
The state is in dire financial condition, with revenues already having plummeted from the reduced levels projected for the current fiscal year, and sharp reductions in state funding for education and other local needs are a sure thing. The legislature will not polish off the state budget for several weeks if we’re lucky, and for months if we’re not.
McSwain backs up his budget figures with dismal facts and projections. The jobless rate recently dropped a notch or two but still remains high. The county can expect a $1 million drop in each of three major revenue sources: property taxes, sales taxes and interest on investment savings.
Recovery Likely to Be Slow
Signs of economic recovery are on the horizon, but every realistic analysis calls for a slow recovery. It may take years for the economy to bounce back.
For decades, Moore County has comfortably relied on a growth boom that almost effortlessly boosted the tax base. Now development is down to a standstill, and new homes and sales of existing houses have dwindled sharply. Adding to the budget misery are unfunded mandates from state and federal governments, additions over which the county has little or no control.
The collective memory is short. Tax cuts were adopted last year at a time when fiscal austerity was recognized, but not to such a severe extent.
Putting together a budget is a complex undertaking that requires vast understanding of the law and finance and incorporation of multiple operational needs.
“It’s not a fun process,” board Chairman Tim Lea said when McSwain presented the budget recommendation Monday. That was certainly an understatement.
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