This column originally appeared in the May 19, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. Budget season is almost upon us again. There’s plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the town budget in order to ensure your town board members are asking the right questions during budget workshops over the next few months.
The proposed (now adopted) Huntersville budget for fiscal year 2016-17 is available on the finance page at the town’s website for review. I would encourage Huntersville residents to read over the budget in its entirety so you can learn more about how your local government is funded and how those funds are spent.
I would also encourage residents to contact the mayor and town board members between now and when the budget vote takes place in June so your voice can be heard on what the budget priorities should be over the next fiscal year. We may be in the midst of a presidential race, but what goes on at Huntersville Town Hall arguably has a more direct impact on your life and the life of your neighbors than anything done by our next president.
“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So government programs, once launched, never disappear.”
This quote from Ronald Reagan is taken from his “A Time for Choosing” speech in 1964. Mr. Reagan obviously wasn’t referring to local government in Huntersville, but his fundamental point about government remains as valid today as it was 52 years ago. Compare total expenditures in the proposed budget (including Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics and Electricities funds) to other recent proposed Huntersville budgets: total expenditures of $47.3 million in FY 2012-13; $48.8 million in 2013-14; $53 million in 2014-15; $55.7 million in 2015-16; and now $57.9 million in this year’s proposed budget.
How much longer will Huntersville be able to sustain this growth in government without another hike in the property or sales tax or increased fees? If this continual growth in the budget is not directly related to expenditures on essential functions of local government, should expenditures continue to increase at this rate or should the town board request the town manager better prioritize spending? The budget will obviously grow with Huntersville’s population, but the board should continue to ensure growth in expenditures is tied to revenues.
Some additional questions on two specific items in the budget.
Why is $14,700 budgeted for digital server space if the town isn’t going to make all public meetings available by video? I supported the current board’s decision to increase transparency by moving to stream all official meetings online, but apparently some meetings of the board are not worthy of being filmed. As of Monday, May 16, video of the May 2 pre-meeting budget presentation was unavailable at the town’s video page on Ustream. The budget work session on May 10, where a quorum was present, was also not live streamed, ostensibly due to difficulty with the audio.
If our tax dollars are going to continue to be used for streaming and server space, I would like to see this board demand any and all public meetings in town hall where a quorum is present be live streamed, unless an exemption is applicable.
The budget summary states that HFFA receives no general-fund appropriations. Why the need for continual reassurances? HFFA is subsidized with taxpayer funding, and without this annual subsidy covering their debt ($305,024 this year on p. 101/106) I believe they would very likely be forced to close, with or without general-fund appropriations.
If you accept the premise that subsidizing HFFA is beneficial to Huntersville because of the economic development revenue generated, it only seems logical to ask why the town doesn’t fund similar facilities for other athletic activities.
For example, how many cycling events could the Huntersville Family Velodrome draw? Or, think of how many non-residents would come to watch fights at the Huntersville Family Mixed Martial Arts Octagon.
But if we don’t spend the money on HFFA what will we spend it on? So goes the refrain from Huntersville elected officials. Only a politician would never think to return money used for non-essential government functions back to the taxpayers.
It takes vigilance to ensure government at all levels isn’t spending your money in objectionable ways. Now is the time to let your elected officials know if you object to anything in the proposed budget.