A difficult decision, but the wise course

As the start of the new fiscal year nears, it’s appropriate to offer a word of praise to the Jefferson County Commission for its recent change in course as it puts together its budget.

For years, as our area expanded with thousands of new residents and new businesses and with no competition in Maryland for the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the county had plenty of money to spend.

But clearly Jefferson County leaders should not have begun to believe the good times would go on indefinitely.

The economy soured and the flood of new residents snatching up homes slowed to a trickle. The businesses that had flocked to follow the residential explosion turned back with the downtown. And then a change in the Maryland law gave residents in the Free State the freedom to gamble right at home.

Because Jefferson County leaders had included gambling revenue in the general budget, commissioners suddenly had to make all sorts of tough choices once Charles Town lost much of its Maryland customer base.

“Gambling taxes are not normal revenue,” noted Commission President Walt Pellish amid the budget crunch in December. “You can’t start basing your decisions on how to run a county based on money that could disappear overnight.”

Commissioner Patsy Noland agreed, saying that it makes sense to earmark gaming money for one-time capital expenditures rather than for the county’s day-to-day operating expenses.

Now, after a period of truly wrenching budget decisions, Pellish, Noland and fellow commissioners Dale Manual, Jane Tabb and Lyn Widmyer all have put our county on a better path. Let’s hope this time around, the lesson sticks.

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