Wrestling with austerity

Austerity is defined a situation in which there is not much money and it is spent only on things that are necessary. One could be said to be austere if he lives within his budget, with income greater than expenditures.

That might not sound like a revolutionary or extreme principle. In fact, many people live that way; even more people would probably espouse the concept; and it certainly wouldn’t sound radical to fiscally conservative North Dakotans, in particular.

Yet, news reports the past several years from around the globe have decried government “austerity” – government forced to limit itself to living within its budget.

Well, austerity is coming to Minot and officials and residents should come to grips with this reality now, rather than be surprised by it later.

Kudos to Minot City Manager Tom Barry for his realistic, no-nonsense assertions of this fact. Barry’s studied, measured evaluation of the city’s financial status and prognosis is refreshing in its honesty. This real-world perspective must temper other influences that might in the past have driven an unrealistic agenda.

Most recently, the Minot City Council has wrestled over the time frame to alter sales tax allocations in support of flood protection. Barry’s analysis is that, as is, there will be cuts made in city staff and other spending, and that re-allocating sales tax revenue immediately would create a tremendous burden on the budget. Mr. Barry might not refer to a potential “crisis,” but it would make for difficult math to say the least. A phase-in of the re-allocation at least permits completion of some items on the agenda and provides some time for the city to adjust to what will be austere times.

However the council ends up moving forward, it will be with the understanding that spending cannot remain at current levels. A Minot version of austerity is setting in, whether anyone uses the term or not. Just as elected officials must acknowledge this, they must also be extremely proactive to communicate to residents the full impact on public spending.

With proper communication, it’s possible that City Hall might discover that Minot residents don’t necessarily think that austerity, living within one’s means, is such a bad thing.