Lincoln County commissioners have something surprising in common with Charlotte City Council members. Both of them have chosen to treat this year’s budget process as an opportunity to ask tough questions about what’s best for the taxpayers, not simply rubber-stamping their manager’s budget proposal as so many county and municipal bodies do.
In the case of Lincoln commissioners, they worked closely with County Manager George Wood to tweak the budget, eliminating some unnecessary costs. The organizations who would have benefited from some of that spending will probably disagree about whether the money was needed, but if they have merit, then hopefully they can find individuals and companies willing to meet their shortfall and not count on the county coffers to continue footing their bills to such an extent.
Like many businesses during the ongoing economic downtown, county government has had to tighten its belt. Generosity toward nonprofit groups has to be rethought in such a situation. Ultimately, charity should be up to the private sector and not the government.
In addition, commissioners worked with Wood to develop an intelligent merit-based pay increase plan for county workers, which will allow them to reward those who deserve it most. It can only be hoped that those who practice excellent customer service will be rewarded and those who don’t will have an incentive to do better. It’s all about keeping employees accountable to their ultimate bosses, the taxpayers.
Finally, the commissioners made a hard choice to invest their additional funds in savings rather than a tax cut. As welcome as a small tax cut would be, this seems to be the right choice. Having solid savings will help protect against potential tax increases in future years and can only benefit the county’s credit rating, which also works to taxpayer’s advantage when the county must pay interest in future years.
Meanwhile, across the Catawba River, the city of Charlotte is still reeling from the courageous bipartisan act of rebellion from council members who struck down the city manager’s demand for an 8 percent tax hike.
In a city suffering from runaway poverty, crime, foreclosures and many other ills, a tax hike of such size would have a chilling effect on any recovery. The city still has to pass a budget before the end of the month, so the outcome remains uncertain. But whenever elected leaders stop to think before voting, it’s a step in the right direction.