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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: A welcome relief from rhetoric

Anyone in search of proof that elections matter need only have watched the budget deliberations of the past four years.


The budget that the Board of Commissioners completed on May 22 is the most responsible and sensible one it has drafted in at least that long. It spends money wisely and invests in the future, including a big investment in a health sciences building that could reshape the western side of the central city. It does not raise taxes.
Gone this spring was the phony "taxpayer watchdog" posturing spectators had to endure from blowhards who were better at rhetoric than arithmetic. This year, the commissioners thoughtfully reviewed requests, deliberated in a spirit of common ground and endorsed a budget that is disciplined at its core yet generous where it needs to be.
It is no accident that the regular operating expenses of the county have been rising year to year at a minuscule rate. Credit for that ought to go in part to the Board of Commissioners but mostly to County Manager Steve Wyatt, who has instituted a culture of efficiency in delivering basic service while recognizing when opportunity means writing a check.
The best example of that flexible leadership is the five-party agreement that will result in the health sciences and medical building for Blue Ridge Community College, Wingate University and Pardee Hospital on Sixth Avenue West at Oak Street.
Commissioner Larry Young asked how many floors the building would be. "As many as the ground will hold apparently," Wyatt quipped. Levity aside, altitude is one of the issues the county and city will have to sort out, along with the floor plan, parking and overall design features.
The commissioners showed a welcome willingness to invest in the Flat Rock Playhouse. Wyatt recommended $20,000; the board increased the appropriation to $50,000, fully funding the theater's request. That's a hopeful sign that the commissioners see the value of keeping the State Theatre of North Carolina operating in Flat Rock. It makes sense, as we have said here before, given that the Mainstage and downtown venues generate $14 million a year in tourism revenue.
As the commissioners wound down their budget work on Thursday, Wyatt warned that an additional $2½ million in spending had lowered the reserve account a bit more, and they ought to watch it in the future. But in fact the four-year strategy of building up the fund balance and then spending it wisely and carefully has worked out as planned. Commissioners were smart to drop the proposed 1.4-cent tax cut; the money will be needed for debt service.
The report card on this four-year cycle should give the Board of Commissioners high marks for improving year to year, and settling at last on substance over style.