by Jordan Green

Items from across the Triad and beyond 

Fiscally conservative citizens bring it on

After hundreds of hours of scouring the county budget, a group convened by Conservatives for Guilford County presented alternatives to a 6.32-cent tax increased proposed by County Manager Brenda Jones Fox. All commissioners, with the exception of Chairman Skip Alston, who represents District 8, and District 9 Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, attended the Monday evening program. Commissioners sat in the front row of the audience and asked questions to the presenters.

The proposed tax increase would help close a $26.8 million budget gap, created in large part by an increase in debt service to cover the cost of bond projects approved by voters in 2008, withheld state lottery funds and paying for the new jail in downtown Greensboro.

The presenters went better than that, identifying $72.9 million in cuts. They proposed to eliminate the county employee longevity bonus, saving $2.3 million; require county employees to increase their contribution to the retirement funds, saving $4.5 million; reduce paid holidays, vacation days and sick days, saving, $7.3 million; and eliminate the county’s internal audit unit.

Other major savings would come from cuts to education ($14.8 million), delayed bond spending ($12.5 million) and reductions to the public health budget ($9.3 million). The group proposed no cuts to the county’s $60.4 million law enforcement budget. Jodi Riddleberger of Conservatives for Guilford County explained that volunteers chose which areas of the budget they wanted to review and they did not have enough people to look at every department.

“I borrowed money when times were good,” said Commissioner Bruce Davis, a Democrat who represents District 1 in High Point. “I can’t walk away from that debt. The citizens voted for these bonds. We cannot walk away from that debt, although it was good times, and I understand. We don’t have that luxury of walking away.”

George Hartzman, a financial advisor at Wells Fargo, responded with a parable about a financially troubled family that puts a vacation to a vote. In the story, the three children prevail over their two parents to take the expensive vacation and then come home to find their house foreclosed. The speech prompted enthusiastic applause.

“That analogy works good if you’re referring to the voters as kids and we’re the parents,” Davis said. “The voters understand the responsibilities of the county as well, as you are the voters who feel that you’re not kids. You’re not the children, and we’re not the parents. We have a responsibility. That argument would work if we were talking about a family picnic with me and my kids. Sir, it does not work here.”

Many of the commissioners applauded the conservative activists for their engagement and effort, including Commissioner Kirk Perkins, a Democrat who represents District 4. Last June, Perkins challenged the conservative activists to review the budget and find areas to cut spending if they were unhappy about taxes.

“I think you make some good points,” Perkins said on Monday. “I certainly want to look through [your proposed cuts]. I encourage you and challenge you. And I wouldn’t challenge you in an antagonistic way, you know, bring it on. And you brought it on. We’ll see how it works out.”

Step inside this House

US Rep. Howard Coble, who represents North Carolina’s 6 th Congressional District, has mastered the political art of folksy conversation — if you graduated from any high school in his district, he can tell you the name of your school mascot — but he seems to have an especially good rapport with musicians of the Americana type.

In February Coble was fielding letters from bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and the manager of the Del McCoury Band about the perils of having small instruments broken or damaged in luggage when traveling by air.

On May 11, a meeting between the congressman and a group of realtors from Guilford and Moore counties was interrupted by a surprise visit from country singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett, who was in Washington to lobby for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

In addition to high school mascots, Coble apparently also has a pretty good memory for song lyrics as evidenced by his recitation of Lovett’s “Farther Down the Line”: “Let’s have a hand for the young cowboy, and wish him better luck next time/ And hope to see him up in Fargo, or somewhere farther down the line.”

Let’s hope that wasn’t meant as a subtle response to the lobbying songwriter.