Predictable vs. out there

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chairman Jim Sides and Commissioner Jon Barber have voted alike on the Rowan County budget more than once. Sides always wants the county to spend less; Barber believes the county should do more. So they both vote no.
Logical, even.
Compare that to the process the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners went through this week. After the public had its say on the budget to maintain a 70-cent tax rate, one of the three commissioners who lost in the May primary unveiled a plan to cut $3 million out of the budget, and the other two joined him in approving it. There was no forewarning, no time for the public to weigh in. The cuts were part of Commissioner Jason Oesterreich’s lengthy motion to approve the budget. It passed 3-2.
Among the budget items the majority cut in Cabarrus were a deputy county manager position, all county funding to the Cabarrus Economic Development Commission, four positions at the public library, a new Midland library, a new park near the Cabarrus-Union county line, the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm, the Food Policy Council and county funding for the Cabarrus Arena.
Commissioners almost always do some tweaking to the budget presented by the county manager. In Rowan’s case, the board added about $355,000 in spending for four additional deputies, money for academies at six high schools and a few other things. The public didn’t have a chance to weigh in on those changes, either, but commissioners weren’t suddenly eliminating funding for projects in what at times amounted to a major policy shift.
Rowan commissioners OK’d a 2.75-cent property tax increase Monday, raising the rate to 65 cents per $100 — or $650 on a $100,000 home. The new rate is a penny lower than County Manager Gary Page proposed; it’s not clear what commissioners took out of the budget to save the additional penny. One point Page did clarify regarded the $6 million or so the budget uses from the fund balance for next year’s expenses. Page said he has always challenged the county’s department heads to spend less than is budgeted, and that is typically what happens. If business goes as usual, Page said, the money won’t have to be drawn from the fund balance.
Rowan’s budgeting process this spring was not perfect but, compared to the discord over the mall purchase, it went fairly smoothly. And compared to what happened in Cabarrus, Rowan’s process was downright harmonious.