Editorial: Standing in the back of the line

February 14, 2014 

Towns like Garner are at the mercy of a lot of different whims as they try to figure out how to function from year to year.

The primary tool municipalities use to do their work is the annual budget. The document predicts how much money the town expects to bring in each year. It also lines out how that money will be spent. It is, of course, based to some degree on projections and educated guesses. And, it is flexible. Town council members can adjust the figures up or down during the year.

But having to make a lot of adjustments is never really a good thing, because it causes concerns about the possibility of spending money the town doesn’t have, or money the town needs to put back for savings.

Towns rely on larger units of government – county, state and federal – to make decisions about how they will allocate money at the municipal level. And, until those decisions are written in stone, creating a budget can be a game of truly wild guesses.

But there’s one other factor towns must consider, and it’s a biggie. The recession opened the door of opportunity for those who wanted to overhaul the economics of this state and country. New leaders have had the opportunity to put their fingerprints on any number of major changes, from the way our social safety net is operated to taxation to the continuation of programs towns have relied on for income for many years.

In some cases, the changes have made it more difficult for towns to look into their own crystal balls and make plans for the future. Garner is in that boat now. As they wait to see what other governments higher in the food chain decide about their local spending, the town of Garner also has to sit by and watch as recent changes in the law impact the town’s revenue. Reduced, for instance, is the amount of money the town received from motor vehicle taxes as a result of changes to that law which allow vehicle owners to pay their vehicle taxes when they pay for their license plates.

Whether the amount of that money will ultimately return to previous levels (in theory it should) remains to be seen.

But for now, it’s just one more instance in which the town will continue to have trouble seeing the future very clearly.

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