Whatever the level, governments collect tax revenue for one purpose and one purpose only: to pay for services, including the personnel who actually do the work. When financial hard times call for budget-cutting, the goal of course must be to make sure that the most important among those services are protected. Health and safety are atop the list.
An N&O story on Thursday described the squeeze on some Triangle-area police departments, whose budgets are being scrubbed along with those of other municipal operations. Here's hoping that the scrub brush doesn't have wire bristles. This may be a good region in which to live (better for some than for others), but there is no shortage of crime. Police forces already have been stretched thin. There should be no cutbacks that would mean fewer officers on patrol -- fewer vigilant eyes on the street, fewer investigators working to solve the murders, robberies, hit and runs and other outrages against civil society.
Fine. But where do harried city managers and council members then look to economize? Delay the scheduled purchase of new police cars and get some more miles out of the old ones, as Raleigh plans to do. That's one example. Beyond the police department, however, recreation programs appear to be a soft target. When the wolf is at City Hall's door, what could be wrong with cutting some hours at community centers?
Less money absolutely means that some items on the municipal service menu will have to be downsized or scrapped. But back to the priority of public safety.
It takes no great mental feat to discern the link between crime prevention and recreational opportunities, especially for young people. In cities such as Raleigh and Durham, where gangs are making violent inroads, any backsliding on programs that keep kids engaged in wholesome activities and out of trouble means that someone is likely to get hurt, in one fashion or another. Our elected leaders must figure out how to hold the line.