Garner Councilman Gra Singleton is absolutely right: A policy ignored is not worth the hard drive it’s stored on.
At a Garner Town Council meeting earlier this month, Mr. Singleton rightfully discouraged his fellow councilmen and town administrators from dipping into reserves to send a delegation to Denver for the All-America City awards. In 2010, he reminded his colleagues, the council codified thriftiness in Garner by saying the town could dip into reserves only for capital expenses.
In other words, the town cannot spend its savings to pay a police officer or purchase paperclips. By extension, then, the town cannot take money out of savings to put people on a plane to Denver.
By the way, no one in town government refers to cash reserves as savings. Cash in reserve is known instead as fund balance, as if that makes it money a town can more readily spend. But make no mistake, “fund balance” is money a town holds in reserve for a rainy day. In other words, it’s a savings account, and in Garner, under town policy, is a savings account for a specific use.
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This is not to say Garner should skimp on its delegation to Denver. As Town Manager Hardin Watkins rightly notes, though Garner is a finalist for All-America City status, its work isn’t done. In Denver, the town will have to make its case for the award, and that will require the best people it can send to the Mile High City
But that doesn’t mean the town shouldn’t ask its delegates to share in the cost. Neither does it mean the town shouldn’t seek donations or look elsewhere in the budget for some of the money. Fortunately, the town manager said, town spending is running below projections this year. (Had the town manager said that from the get-go, the council might have avoided much of the funding debate, though we suppose it served to remind town leaders of the obligation to be thrifty.)
Garner can borrow money at low interest rates and with modest tax increases partly because it has made frugalness town policy. With more than $35 million in borrowing on the horizon, Councilman Singleton is right to insist that the council not veer from policy now.