Start with realistic plan

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors conducts an open budget process, which is good, but the county’s routine seems flawed.

Instead of requiring county department heads to strictly limit their annual budget requests, they are allowed to propose wish lists, and the elected county supervisors have to cut them to get the overall county budget to a reasonable level.

This year, the departments’ recommendations would result in an $88.4 million plan with a tax-levy increase of about 25 percent. County supervisors, working with the budget director, likely will reduce the tax increase to a point where it’s below the state-mandated tax cap of roughly 2 percent. Then, the supervisors can celebrate their accomplishment and tell the public how they managed to cut the tax increase. This gives the false impression a mere 2 percent tax increase is an incredible feat the taxpayers should be happy about.

The way we see it, the supervisors’ Johnstown performance is more suited for the Colonial Little Theatre than the County Office Building.

We admit the show sometimes does have a good ending. At one point last year, the preliminary 2015 budget would have raised the average county property tax rate by 21 percent. By the time supervisors were finished working on the budget, the average property tax rate actually decreased.

But rather than subjecting taxpayers to a scare, supervisors would be better off finding a way to strictly limit the departments’ budget requests. For example, limit proposed increases to 2 percent. Situations requiring more than 2 percent for uncontrollable reasons – such as unfunded state mandates – could be factored in early.

The Board of Supervisors should start the budget process by looking at realistic proposals. The supervisors’ goal should be to eliminate any tax increase. Better yet, they should aim for cutting taxes.