To balance the 2012 Hall County budget requires both tax increases and spending cuts. We all know that in hard economic times, both tax increases and spending cuts are painful. How should we think about the painful trade-offs?
First, tax increases are widely distributed; all property owners are likely to pay on average an additional $100 on their annual property tax bill. Service cuts hit particular individuals hard: the user of ambulance service in a health emergency, residents who use parks and libraries regularly, county employees whose furlough days cost them over $1,000 per year.
Is it fairer that all taxpayers should pay a small sum to help balance the budget or that users of Hall County services should bear the burden of cuts?
Second, residents tend to complain loudly about tax increases because they are highly visible when they write their annual check. Public safety, parks and recreation and highway maintenance are simply taken for granted. We need to publicize better that access to emergency services in time of need, driving on well-maintained roads and having parks and recreation facilities are valuable. We must pay for them just as we pay for a basket of groceries at the local supermarket.
Third, where should we cut? Closing parks and libraries is of questionable value unless you can show that usage rates are low. Demand will be shifted to facilities that remain open, leading to more overcrowding. Also, mothballed parks and libraries will continue to require security and maintenance to prevent accelerated depreciation. How is that a sensible way to cut a budget gap?
To cut the budget, go where the money is. That's the sheriff's department and court services, which constitute about half of Hall County spending. Ask our quality employees to plan for a 10 percent budget cut in these large departments without compromising essential services. Ask them to identify priority crimes and prosecutions and adjust hours spent patrolling the streets.