Editor’s Desk

Column: Budgets: Why should we care?

May 24, 2013 

OK. We get it. Budgets are not the most exciting reading material out there. They may be good fodder for insomniacs. Maybe the odd number-cruncher might be interested in reading through a budget.

But the darn things are important. And most of us just go on our merry way and don’t pay attention until we learn something is in there we don’t like.

Usually, by that time, it’s too late to change the plan.

Budgets give us a glimpse at our government’s priorities.

The N.C. Senate, for instance, doesn’t apparently give a rip about the plight of the mentally ill, considering they want to cut more than 3 percent of the budget for a program that already doesn’t have enough money to do its job properly.

In Wendell, the aversion to raising taxes is so strong that all those folks who flock to the Wendell Parks and Recreation Department for youth athletics programs will find themselves paying more money to play one less game next year. The regular season in that town is now 25 percent shorter than it was in 1978 when Western Auto held off the Jaycees for the Little League tournament championship.

In Garner, employees are a priority for town leaders, who say they worry about good workers leaving for higher-paying jobs with other cities. So they are going to include raises for employees. And they’re gonna go car shopping for 20 - count ‘em - 20 new police cars. Wendell cut out its plan to buy any new police cars this year.

Hope you don’t need the police too much this year in Wendell. Chances are their cars will be in the shop more often than officers there would like.

But those are the kinds of things you can read in a budget.

Government budgets are like household budgets in one sense. They are guidelines. All throughout the year, governments add revenue to the budget that they were not expecting to receive. They OK expenses that weren’t included in the original budget.

So the budget can change throughout the year, but generally, the original budget numbers paint a fairly complete picture of how the government hopes to operate over the next 12 months.

Most importantly, though, budgets are a great window in the priorities of the government that prepares it.

Is your hometown saving for a rainy day? Are they spending their savings just to make ends meet? Do they seem to have a plan for how to get things accomplished in the long term? What charitable and community organizations is your government supporting? Is that support growing or shrinking? What groups do they not support?

So how does your local government’s priorities stack up with your own? It’s hard to say unless you read through the budget.

And if you do that, you might see some things you like. You might also see some things you don’t like. Then you’re empowered to suggest changes and improvements.

If you look at those things when they are in the talking stages, you could, perhaps effect change quickly. If you wait until the ink is dried, you may have to wait a while,

But you can still have an impact.

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