Alamance County taxpayers owe a debt of gratitude to three county commissioners who managed to remember them this week by rolling back the property rate, albeit only slightly. Even though the cut was modest, indeed – just one penny, from 67 cents per $100 valuation to 66 cents – it was very much warranted.
It seems that most bureaucrats in county government – and everywhere else for that matter – don’t seem to understand the connection between the largesse of spending they enjoy so much and the people out of whose wallets all that money must come.
From farmers, small business people, factory workers, those who are retired and others who are still working, it is Alamance County’s property owners who are supplying most of the tax dollars that fund county government.
Yet these people are seemingly the last to be considered when budget numbers are being bounced around by bureaucrats and the politicians who support them.
The 2021-2022 county budget is still far and away the largest ever! In fact, it represents about a 10 percent increase in spending over the most recent one adopted last year as the county, state, and nation entered into the year of Covid-19.
Spending for county government continues to expand dramatically – practically unabated, even after a few nips and tucks that a majority of the commissioners made to trim the proposed spending increases in order to accommodate the slight reduction in the tax rate.
One would think that after hearing all of the news about county revenues being plentiful – more so than expected when the current year’s budget was enacted a year ago – it might occur to someone that the taxpayers should also be beneficiaries of that boon. More revenue shouldn’t be an excuse simply to spend it all.
How about giving some back to the hard-working taxpayers from whence it came in the first place?
So that’s what board chairman John Paisley proposed this week. He won wholehearted support from commissioners Bill Lashley and Craig Turner.
But on the all-Republican board, he failed to garner support from two other members: vice chairman Steve Carter and Pam Thompson, both of whom kicked against reducing the county manager’s spending spree.
Listening to Carter and Thompson, any observer might have mistaken them for liberal, spend-happy Democrats.
Thompson’s appetite for every do-goodism program funded by government was pretty much to be expected when she joined the board after the 2020 elections.
While she often talks about fiscal responsibility, her actions on the school board – and, thus far, on the board of commissioners – seem to indicate an inability to resist more spending.
And while she expresses all manner of empathy for certain quarters of Alamance County society, she displayed none whatsoever this week for the hard-pressed taxpayer.
But Carter’s vote against the budget with its reduced tax rate was perplexing, indeed.
And even more bizarre was his stated rationale for that opposition.
Among the cause célèbres Carter actually promoted out loud was to advocate more spending for the department of social services.
Keep in mind, he wanted to keep pouring money into the welfare agency that hasn’t even spent all of its current allotment.
At least some of the cash DSS is sitting on comes from 40-some vacancies on the agency’s staff. There’s more than $300,000 in lapsed salaries from these positions, and it was this unspent revenue that paid for a large chunk of the proposed tax cut in the new budget.
Still, Carter wanted to keep this budget line high – although for what ultimate purpose we cannot imagine. The pandering was evident, though inexplicable.
“Holy what-was-he-thinking?” as Robin, in the TV version of the 1960’s Batman series, might say.
With Republican officeholders like Carter, who needs Democrats?
Even more baffling is that Carter used to pretend to be a “Tea Party” conservative – although his days as the local figurehead of that movement, such as they were, seem long ago and long forgotten.
Carter is the only current member of the board who voted two years ago to impose the highest tax increase in county history – up 8 cents to the current level of 67 cents. (The other four commissioners have been elected, or appointed, since.)
That 8-cent hike, which took the rate from 59 to 67 cents in one fell swoop, had been hailed by the commissioners who supported it as necessary to finance the bond packages for ABSS and ACC that voters had approved in 2018.
One would have thought Carter might want to provide some taxpayer relief now that the county’s financial situation has improved – but, alas, he didn’t.
At least not if it any reduction in spending plans was included.
Carter could only countenance a tax cut if it was offset solely from the county’s reserves (or savings account), not in any reduction in the increases included in the manager’s proposed spending plan.
Nonetheless, the taxpaying public can be thankful that the other three Republican commissioners – Paisley, Lashley, and Turner – are more in the mold of the late Congressman Howard Coble, whose famous “sharp pencil” was taken to Washington, D.C. and applied to any and every spending proposal.
Perhaps someone could loan Carter and Thompson a sharp pencil or two – as well as a healthy dose of common sense, fiscal restraint, and greater empathy for those who pay the county’s bills.