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Tough economic times mean hard choices for some

Leaders at all levels of government continue to struggle withdecisions in the face of a tough economic reality, and citizens inthe coming months will see the ramifications of those actions.

While federal officials keep trying to do more despite aballooning national deficit, state and local leaders are faced withmaking the tough choices that hit closer to home. Leaders at thestate and local levels understand that budgets have to be balancedand that real promises have to be backed up by real dollars.

Such was the case this past Thursday when Gov. Haley Barbour wasforced to slash almost $172 million from the state’s $6 billionbudget. The overall percentage cut amounted to 2.9 percent, butsome budget areas – including education – will feel a 5 percentblow.

After struggling earlier this year to write a state budget, andultimately waiting on federal stimulus funds to plug some holes,Mississippi officials are seeing revenue collections lag more thananticipated. Thus the need for the current round of budgetcuts.

Barbour said a “budget storm is on the horizon” and that thebudget cuts are a way of preparing for the coming storm. Otherofficials fear the storm may intensify and that even more cuts willbe needed in the future.

In the meantime, state agency executives will be dealing withhow to implement the current round of cuts. They no doubt arehopeful the cuts will not severely impact various services reliedupon by many Mississippians.

Closer to home, Lincoln County and Brookhaven leaders have beenin the throes of a budget battle to chart county and city spendingplans for their new fiscal years that start next month.

Supervisors and county budget writers are looking at anapproximately $15 million plan that is targeted to be largelyunchanged from the current year. A public hearing on the county’sbudget is scheduled for Sept. 15 in the supervisors’ boardroom.

Across the lobby at the government complex, Brookhaven’s mayorand aldermen have stared down some tough choices and come up withan estimated $14.2 million budget. Pending some final tweaking ofnumbers, around $9.8 million will be for general fund services, $3million for water and sewer and $1.4 million for solid waste.

Despite some of their desires to do otherwise, aldermen rejectedraises for themselves and city workers – although they are keepingopen that possibility should economic conditions improve later inthe year. Funding for police and fire equipment and park restroomswere trimmed – but not completely eliminated – and aldermen alsoset up a plan to reduce the city’s share on insurance coverage fordependents of city employees.

On the revenue side, city water, sewer and solid waste customerswill be paying 50 cents more a month for each of those services.Those services must be paid for from user fees and thus the neededprice increase.

Overall, aldermen approved the budget while still managing tolower the property tax levy, mainly due to a countywide propertyvalue increase. While the net effect of the levy move could mean atax shift among some property owners, ultimately city officialswere vigilant in their efforts to hold the line on revenue andspending plans.

Tough economic times dictate that difficult decisions must bemade by those in authority.

Good leaders make tough decisions. And while they may beunpopular at the time, their fiscal responsibility will pay off foreveryone in the future.