At Saturday's retreat, the Orange County commissioners looked at a lot of graphs. One compared the growth in the county's general fund, which pays for operating expenses, and the growth in the value of real property. Property taxes paid for 71 percent of the county's $183 million budget this fiscal year.
The problem, according to Commissioner Mike Nelson, is that the first number has been increasing at a higher rate than the second. In other words, the county is increasing its spending faster than property taxes have been growing to pay for that spending. In fact, projections show county spending rising 5.8 percent a year over the next five years while property values rise just 3.9 percent.
The county can offset the difference by continuing to draw down its reserves or, of course, by raising the tax rate on that real property base.
Neither is palatable to Nelson, a relatively new commissioner and former mayor of Carrboro.
"I have a fundamental, philosophical, ideological problem with the way this organization had done budgeting," he told county budget director Donna Coffey, County Manager Laura Blackmon and his fellow board members. "It's brought about tax increases."
Read more from the retreat in this week's News & Observer and Chapel Hill News.