At face value, the argument for a large county tax increase as proposed in a draft budget from the Waldo County commissioners, is a reasonable one.

Since 1989, there have only been six occasions on which the county budget increased by less than 3 percent from one year to the next. The years 2009, 2010 and 2011 account for three of these. Last year, there was no increase — a first during that 22-year period. Expenses were bound to catch up.

Then again, if three years of limited tax increases sounds good, then thank the unsentimental group of municipal officials known as the Waldo County budget committee. The committee has final authority over the bottom line of the county budget, and historically its members have had no qualms about saying “no.”

This has often happened despite pleas from the county commissioners, whose draft budgets during the past three years have been increasingly trim. Even some of the more hawkish budget committee members have said as much. With the proposed 8-percent increase in 2012, the commissioners aren’t just padding the budget for the inevitable whittling away; they’re saying the county can’t continue to operate with the same amount of money while expenses creep up.

But, then, most residents have been doing just that for the last 30 years, or at least since 1989, the first year of county budget comparisons. Today the county budget is over five times what it was in 1989. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but even with optimistic rounding of figures from the Social Security Administration, wages during that same time period only doubled. Both comparisons are in unadjusted dollars.

The commissioners have done due diligence with the budget and are making an effort to plan carefully, which includes making some investments — the self-insurance program is a good example of this kind of forward thinking, as is the new Sheriff’s and EMA building under construction*. But if past years are any indication, when the budget committee goes into session Saturday, Oct. 29 to review the budget, all bets will be off.

* According to several county officials, the reserve status of money used for the new building meant that it could not have been used to offset the county’s operating budget.