The budget Hillsborough commissioners will consider today does nothing to address the root cause of the property tax revolt, much less the trends that are aggravating the county's financial future. Not many residents will notice $56-million in savings from the $1.7-billion operations budget next year. The debate has focused more on how to avoid making cuts than on making the right ones - an exercise in creative accounting that helped inspire the tax revolt. Commissioners also are charging ahead without giving any real thought to how growth, transportation, city-county consolidation and other forces could shape the financial picture in the years ahead.
The reality that local governments must do more with less was an opportunity to pause, look ahead 40 or 50 years and re-examine the allocation of the community's resources. In Hillsborough, the focus should have shifted to managing growth and pushing forward with commuter rail, the only long-term solutions to manage demands for roads and other services. Yet the opposite has happened as Hillsborough officials look to borrowing and accounting tricks to keep the political pork flowing.
The proposed cuts have no rhyme or reason, and they reflect no overall vision for the county beyond political expedience. The county has proposed slashing environmental and growth-management programs that commissioners with strong ties to developers have worked to weaken. It has proposed slashing all funding for educational and public access broadcasting, a back-door way of censoring public comments, while spending $4-million on the county's own propaganda department. This board's greatest hypocrisy, Commissioner Jim Norman's $40-million sports park, is still on the table. Commissioners also will consider a plan Wednesday to spend a half-billion dollars, much of it from borrowing, on a road plan that will encourage sprawl and increase demands on future budgets.
Despite the rhetoric about a tight fiscal year, commissioners have taken no real steps to lessen the demands on the budget. That will require new steps to manage growth and a fuller examination of consolidating some city and county services.