There was a time, not too long ago, when local governments could put together a financial spending plan with relative ease. Revenues were likely to go up modestly and expenses could climb modestly as well.
To be sure, there were always difficult decisions about what to leave in the spending plan and what to take out. And there was never enough money to do everything everyone wanted. But it was, at least a fairly predictable process.
Fastforward to today and that’s no longer the case. Municipal budgets are feeling the squeeze of recent actions by the North Carolina General Assembly, which have taken revenue streams away from towns and cities. They are limited by the state in their ability to grow and, therefore, increase the one revenue stream they do control – property tax.
The upshot of that is people like Wendell Finance Director Butch Kay has told his commissioners he will find some way, somehow, to trim half a million dollars from a budget request that was only $5.5 million to begin with. And in Zebulon, commissioners are pondering a whopping 5-cent tax increase to pay for maintenance of town buildings, equipment and infrastructure that hasn’t been taken care of in recent years as well as the town would have liked.
Solving the budget riddle is no longer the routine annual exercise it once was. Thanks, General Assembly.