Editorial: The pain of practicality in county budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2011

Some thoughts as the Rowan County Board of Commissioners holds a public hearing 7 p.m. Monday on its spending plan for next year:
Smaller budget: After considerable paring and squeezing, the proposed budget is $4.1 million smaller than the current budget, even though it calls for a slightly higher tax rate. Donít expect enhanced services from county agencies in 2011-12; theyíll be doing well to maintain the status quo.
Tax rate change: As proposed, the property tax rate would go from 59.5 cents to 62.25 cents per $100 of assessed value ó revenue neutral after last yearís ill-timed revaluation, plus a quarter-cent for voter-approved improvements at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Your tax bill: Still, this will not be a tax increase for the many landowners whose assessed value went down during revaluation. If your property value went down 10 percent, for example, youíre getting a tax cut. Taxes on a $100,000 piece of property at the 59.5-cent rate would be $595. If that propertyís value went down 10 percent, taxes on the $90,000 value at the 62.25-cent rate would be $560.25.
Straight talk: ěRevenue neutralî is not a smokescreen; itís a practical solution to the revaluation problem. The mere fact of the tax rate going up may pain some people, but further budget cuts would hurt even more.
To those who would fight this higher rate on principle: Local government is not the enemy. The funds in the budget go toward the schools in our neighborhoods, the deputies who patrol our roads, the libraries that keep us literate, the social workers who deal with our most vulnerable citizens. And so on. The leaders we elected have squeezed every penny and squeezed it again, almost to excess.
To those who think the increase should be greater: You may be right. The budget not only pulls back on education ó forcing the Rowan-Salisbury School System to pull another $1 million from its fund balance ó it stiffs some far smaller agencies that have relied on a longstanding connection to county government. Rowan Museum is the most glaring example.
And what about county employees?For the third year in a row, theyíll get no raise or increase in benefits. Unfortunately, the recession has redefined our world and made ěannual raiseî an anachronism ó a thing of the past in many businesses and now in government, too. This frustrates workers who read about record corporate profits and multimillion-dollar CEO salaries in some alternate reality we donít seem privy to. A flat salary is a pay cut when youíre dealing with bigger health care deductibles, costlier trips to the gas pump and rising food prices. Thatís not fair. The recession wasnít fair, either, but we have to deal with it.