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Editorial: Governments pinched, too

It isn’t just family and business budgets that are feeling the tremors from frozen credit, nose-diving stock values, rising unemployment and other signs of our troubled economy.
As consumers cut back, governments are also coping with reduced income ó and worrying about what the coming months may hold.
Rowan County Manager Gary Page’s proposal for a three-month freeze on the hiring of non-essential employees is just the latest evidence of how the gloomy economic news is affecting local and state governments. It follows a spate of other developments indicating that some serious belt-tightening is at hand.
The state is asking most of its agencies to reduce their budgets by 2 percent, which could mean the loss of at least $500,000 for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College ó and college officials fear the reduction could go significantly higher. The budget reductions also will affect the Rowan-Salisbury School System, which is already struggling with rising expenses for bus fuel and other operating costs.
Kannapolis recently decided to postpone marketing a $95 million bond package to pay for improvements related to the N.C. Research Campus. And while Salisbury city officials apparently will go ahead in their attempt to raise funding for a $30 million fiber optic project, the tightening of credit markets has caused them to change their financing plans as they seek to improve their bond rating in preparation for a future bond offering.
Even Dan Nicholas Park isn’t immune, with officials there recently reporting a drop in attendance as rising gas prices and economic uncertainty affect the number of visitors to the park.
With families and businesses having to cut costs, it’s no surprise that governments are following suit. And it’s far better for governments to take pre-emptive action now, rather than be forced to adopt harsher measures later if a prolonged downturn continues to reduce income from sales taxes, property transactions and other revenue sources.
It’s important to keep major projects on track as much as possible, such as plans for a new jail, a new central office for the school system and expansion projects related to growing enrollment at RCCC. Eventually, we’ll return to more robust days, and it’s important not to lose ground in the interim, especially in areas related to education and business development. The community can’t afford to lag in its ability to compete for new businesses and educate the future workforce.
For now, however, no one knows how much worse this situation will get, or how long the downturn will last. Governments ó like businesses and individual households ó are wise to prepare for the worst by looking for ways to cut costs, consolidate where possible and streamline services.
That’s a strategy taxpayers urge and appreciate at any time, but especially in economic climates such as this.

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