Now that the new board of county commissioners has shown it knows how not to spend public money, the question it faces is whether it knows how to produce more of it and remain in the public’s good graces.
That is the territory the commissioners staked out for themselves this week when they issued a resounding “No” to the concept of a publicly funded sports complex.
Regardless of which side of this argument one happens to be on, the four-member majority that decided the matter believes that government has no business being in business. This, as it happens, is the point of view of many conservative economists, especially when government is about to involve itself in projects that rely on revenue projections based on “economic multipliers” of public dollars spent. In their view, these multipliers incorporate a touch of mathematical voodoo.
Then too, these commissioners probably feared the public backlash of a bad result, which can always happen no matter how good an idea might seem at the time — see the much less expensive but still sinking Snow Hill riverboat project for reference.
But the majority’s reasons notwithstanding, the public knows where it stands as the county faces some big expenses in the years ahead. No amount of complaining about unfunded mandates and lopsided formulas is going to change that or get the commissioners out of a tight spot.
It’s not a pretty situation. The public always wants more and better services, but is never willing to pay more for them, the commissioners have no appetite for using public money to spur economic growth, and they can’t cut spending by skeletonizing county government and expect to get away with it.
Had the sports facility proposal not come along, the spotlight would not have illuminated just how politically messy the county’s financial problem is, nor would it have shone so brightly on the four commissioners who will now be expected to come up with the solution.