Just as many of us do in our business and personal lives, leaders of Forsyth County’s government have some difficult decisions to make.
In preparation for the approval of a new budget, county commissioners last week said they were looking at a lean spending plan that likely would eliminate existing jobs, leave other jobs vacant, and cancel or reduce raises planned for employees.
That such budget cuts are under consideration should be no surprise to anyone who has watched the rapid decline of the nation’s economy over the past several months.
Many private businesses already have been forced to take the steps being considered by county leaders, who have been told to expect as much as a 16 percent drop in projected revenues for the coming year.
For many businesses, expense cuts forced by the current economic conditions mean getting back to the core of their existence — eliminating peripheral ventures and tangential targets.
The same should be true for those in charge of the government purse strings. As they look for ways to make strategic cuts in expenses, county officials would do well to define the core mission of local government and concentrate on making sure the most essential of services — public safety, water and sewer, transportation, etc. — can still be provided at an acceptable level.
Having been promised substantial pay increases in the coming year, county employees understandably are upset that those raises may be lost to the budget cutting knife. But the action being contemplated by the county government mirrors those of private industry, where raises are being slashed in many different industries as a means of offsetting losses. With the economy as it is now, merely having a job is the ultimate employee benefit.
Local government is limited in the options available for generating revenue. Reduced consumer spending means reductions in sales tax collections. Problems in the real estate market mean less growth and development, resulting in lower property tax collections. State and federal funds that traditionally are allocated to local government are going to be at a premium as well, further reducing potential revenues.
Budget hearings scheduled Dec. 4 and Dec. 18 will give the public an opportunity for input into the process of allocating funds. But in the end it is county leaders who face the task of finding ways to provide service to a growing area in as economical a manner as possible.
That’s a hard job when times are good, and a very difficult task when times are tough.