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These funds already promised
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Forsyth County News
When economic shortfalls besiege the family’s finances, most of us have had experience shifting funds from one potential expense item to another, moving the most urgent to the top of the list and discretionary options farther down.

Money that might have been spent on movies and restaurants is suddenly more urgently needed in paying down the second mortgage. Vacations give way to car repairs; pedicures to pediatricians.

Governments face the same spending decisions, and frequently shift funds from one budget line to another, or from a reserve fund to the general fund, in order to deal with suddenly shifting priorities.

But there are certain areas in which governments don’t have discretion in how money is going to be spent, and county commissioners locally are hearing some unwarranted criticism of their actions in regard to those funds.

Like many families, the county has had to curtail spending in recent months to accommodate reductions in revenues. Jobs have been eliminated. Positions left unfilled. Work delayed.

But at the same time, the county has spent money from certain sources for ongoing projects that some question in light of the current economic picture.

Some question why these funds can’t be used to protect county jobs, or to fund other, possibly more urgent needs.
It’s a matter of what the law allows.

When voters of the county approved $100 million in bonds for parks and green space, they did so with the commitment that the money would go to those particular needs and nowhere else. The same with SPLOST dollars approved by the voters for a variety of projects.

Those funds cannot be shifted to purposes for which they were not approved — nor should county officials have that discretion, even in the most dire economic times.

In fact, with many companies willing to cut rates in order just to have work to do, now is a good time to invest in big-ticket projects for which funds have been legally designated by voter approval.

Certainly we can debate whether money is being spent properly within the parameters of those projects — whether the price of a piece of land makes sense, for example — but in the end, there are certain funds available to local governments that have to be spent in certain ways.

Regardless of the wishes of local residents, money approved for green space can’t be used to fund payroll in the planning department. SPLOST money for road projects can’t be shifted to the water department to reduce consumer rates.

There is much spending over which local officials have discretion, but millions in local government funding has to be spent as promised to the voters. Otherwise, those promises would carry no conviction the next time voter approval was sought.