The figures are sobering, to say the least. Chapel Hill proposes an 11 percent property tax hike. Carrboro is looking at a 5 percent increase. Hillsborough proposes a hike of 5.5 percent, and Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County commissioners, said he expects the county manager's recommended budget to call for a tax increase of somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 percent. Something's gotta give. We all know it costs a lot to live here. Housing is expensive. Taxes are high already and preparing to go up.Some of the factors that go into the budget situation here are beyond anyone's control; Orange County's largest employer, for example --the university -- is, as a public institution, exempt from property taxes. But to a large extent, we've chosen this path. We've chosen to make our home a place that values excellent public schools. We value parks, recreational programs, natural areas, facilities for children and seniors, services for those who need help. We value a business and physical environment that emphasizes small businesses and, with a few exceptions, has discouraged big box stores and large retail centers. All those choices make this a really nice place to live. But they aren't free, or cheap. And with the national economy in a funk and gas prices climbing by the day, the cost of living has been nudging a lot of people ever closer to the edge. Tax hikes of the magnitude the local governments are considering threaten to tip some of them over it. As Jacobs recently pointed out, the holy grail of "sustainability" has to apply to government as well as to business, agriculture, energy and everything else. We're getting close to the point where the situation isn't sustainable. Much of the proposed tax increase this year is to pay for things we've already committed to -- the Homestead Road aquatics center, for example, which is almost finished. We chose to build it; now we have to pay for it. But in order to avoid repeating this pattern, like anyone whose income doesn't cover expenses, we're going to have to find creative ways to increase revenue or cut spending, or both. We need to revisit some assumptions -- about large-scale retail, for example. Yes, we have a few big boxes, but Orange County residents still stream over the border to New Hope Commons and Southpoint, where they fill Durham County's coffers. The proposed Buckhorn Village shopping center west of Hillsborough offers some promise of helping stem that flow. And we're going to have to accept that we can't have everything. A healthy human environment, like a healthy natural one, supports a diverse population, and we can't allow the cost of living here to drive out everyone except the wealthy. If that means we have to say no to some things we desire, well, like the man said, you can't always get what you want.