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EDITORIAL: Budget blues

It's budget season, the time for panic, self-preservation and posturing.

If Mills River wants to continue park improvements, then board members have to find a way to pay for it. The Mills River town manager, Jaime Laughter, put together a detailed, persuasive report on why the Town Council ought to raise taxes by 1½ cents per $100 valuation. Over the past three years the town has gone from leased space and no home or property of its own to a brand new Town Hall, town library and town park. These are all fine additions for Mills River citizens, and everyone else for that matter (it has a small-dog park and a big-dog park!).
But all these good things for Mills River folks cost money to operate. "Mills River has the lowest tax rate in the county but not the lowest number of services," Laughter said. If keeping the tax rate the same "drives your budget decision, it needs to drive your decision The council tentatively agreed to 1-cent of the increase, which is enough to fund operating expenses without using the fund balance.
Minutes after the manager completed her budget presentation, the council voted to spend $85,000 to add tennis courts to the park and spend $9,400 for an ATV. The council took the money from reserves. At least it stopped the bleeding with the decision to increase revenue by a little.
Spending down reserves like there is no chance of rain is not the problem in Henderson County. The Board of Commissioners is sitting on a $13.5 million rainy day fund that even fiscal conservatives like commissioner-elect Grady Hawkins are saying is higher than it needs to be. The schools say they're standing in a downpour. They have asked for a $1.6 million increase, which would restore a big cut last year.
Between now and July 1, when all units of government must adopt a balanced budget, local elected leaders face hard choices. In Mills River, spending the rainy day fund dry would be unwise. In Henderson County, using a small part of it during a hard rain might be the reasonable compromise.