Fiscal Philosophy

By. Neil Williamson


Faced with decreasing state revenue and decreasing property values, localities are now preparing to start their budget discussions.  No where is the question of where to start more pronounced than in Albemarle County. 


Recognizing the need for steady revenue, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ken Boyd believes the discussion should start at a 3.5 cent tax increase which would result in the average 2009 tax bill being the same dollar amount (due to decreased assessment) as in 2008.  This would result in the same level of funding for County operations as in FY08.  He then would consider programs/initiatives that had been planned but not yet funded by the Board of Supervisors and add programs/initiatives until reaching a point that the budget garners four affirmative votes.


Vice Chairman David Slutzky sees the starting point differently.  He believes the starting budget should accurately reflect all the approved Board initiatives that were included previously in the five year plans and other discussions.  Using this methodology, the Board could then cut program by program until they reached a tax rate that would garner four affirmative votes.


Over the years, The Free Enterprise Forum has never taken a position on a tax rate in any locality, nor do we plan to. 


This question of how to build the budget, however,  is most intriguing.  There seems to be an interesting unstated undercurrent that if you start high you may end up higher than if you start low.  Without attempting to relive too much of my Organizational Communication/Psychology classes of the early 1980s and based on my five years of observation of Boards of Supervisors, I believe there may be some merit to this unstated undercurrent of “start high to end high”.


In either case, clear, distinct votes will likely be required for each of Albemarle County’s “commitments”.  Just last month we heard the Joint Task Force on Affordable Housing ask for permanent, dedicated income stream to support affordable housing.  


This week’s day meeting (12/3) of the Albemarle Board may provide a preview of budget meetings to come.  Late in the meeting is a discussion of the five-year financial work Plan including the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  A quick review of the programs “on or outside the bubble” in the CIP suggests many in the community will have opinions regarding the disposition of the infrastructure spending.


Whether you start from the bottom and work up or start from the top and work down, in these tough economic times difficult budget decisions will need to be made.


The Free Enterprise Forum believes ALL government spending, regardless of economic conditions or funding source, is worthy of such exact fiscal scrutiny each and every budget cycle.         


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