There's probably a special place in the burning afterlife for whoever coined the phrase, "work smarter, not harder."
That's just a tad too glib in these tough economic times, when fewer workers are doing more jobs and in many cases earning less money.
Even so, Columbia County's School Board and commissioners deserve credit for putting those words to work with tight budgets for the coming year.
The school board is expected to approve its $173 million budget for 2009-10 Tuesday. That budget is $3.4 million less than the current year's budget, softening a $10 million cut in state funding with $5.9 million in federal 'stimulus.' It makes up the rest of the difference by cutting more than 100 employees -- squeezing more students into classrooms to cut nearly 70 teachers and paraprofessionals.
The county commission, meanwhile, this past week approved its $56.5 million budget for 2009-10. That's $500,000 less than this year.
A program of reorganizing county departments trimmed 35 positions through attrition and reduced spending by more than $800,000. That saved enough to provide a small pay raise to remaining county employees, yet still cut the overall budget.
For the cynical among us, keep in mind: The free-spending federal government for years has promoted budget-cutting fiction in which a reduction in a planned spending increase is portrayed as a "cut," even as more money actually is spent.
Next year's county budgets, however, represent bona fide cuts in spending -- nearly $4 million. "It's been a very, very long time since we adopted a budget less than the year before," said County Commissioner Ron Thigpen on Tuesday.
Does this mean property tax cuts next year, reflecting a slightly depressed housing market? Don't hold your breath. The county is still growing, and some of these budget cuts merely push a day of reckoning -- on such things as infrastructure needs and student population increases -- into the future.
But at least for now, the good news is that our local elected officials got smart in these tough times and, like just about every household, slimmed up enough to live next year within their means -- and ours.
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