Excuse us if this story sounds familiar, because it is.
The county’s school board is trying to figure out how to balance the budget for the coming year, with tax money tight and more students, and thus teachers, a fact.
The county government has started its number crunching for a new budget, with the harsh reality that once again the difference between what individual departments think they need to do their jobs, and the amount of money actually available, is in the millions of dollars.
Certainly these are not financial problems unique to Forsyth County. Far from it. Local governments at every level are going through the same painful process of trying to balance community needs against dwindling tax dollars in a climate where just the mention of higher taxes is enough to generate a public uproar of protest.
Despite the frequently expressed opinions of armchair quarterbacks, these are not easy decisions to make. There are limits to how much staff you can cut, how many furlough days you can mandate, how many services you can curtail and still perform vital government functions.
Due to the strength of its foundation, the local economy has fared better than that of many other Georgia communities over the past few years. But the financial challenges still are considerable.
The county continues to draw new residents. The school system needs 77 new teachers for classrooms next year. The transportation budget has to cope with the fact that fuel costs have skyrocketed in a matter of months, that the cost of food is going up, that the demand for service doesn’t lessen despite the staggering number of foreclosures and the unemployment rate hovering at 10 percent.
The county government faces many of the same problems. More people means a need for more public safety expenditures, more projects to keep traffic moving, more utility services, more of all the things a government is obligated to provide.
Across Georgia governmental entities have cut and cut in recent years. The positive from that exercise is that most have found places where money was not being well spent and implemented more efficient ways to do things.
But after a while, when the fat is gone and cuts dig deep into the bone, the question becomes: What are the minimal services with which the governed can be adequately served?
Therein lies the dilemma facing all of elected officials as they prepare spending plans for the coming year.