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Hate new taxes? Try cutting spending instead

Coming out in favor of even a tiny half-cent sales tax for a desperately needed project, particularly when a monolithic section of the county seems opposed, is about as popular as yelling “Rock chalk Jayhawk” in the middle of an imbibing Aggieville crowd on a Friday night.

If you have to blame somebody for the current state we are in regarding our county jail, blame us at the newspaper. We are the ones who won a statewide prize for investigative reporting by disclosing last summer how seriously and illegally overcrowded the current jail was.

We are not happy that we — like you — will have to pay a cent or two more to fix the problem whenever we buy groceries. However, we did not make the news; we merely reported it. We have an obligation to do so whenever anything wrong is detected. A jail breaking the law is one of the things that, all irony aside, we simply could not ignore.

One thing we try to do to make such things a bit easier to take is to present options and context to our stories. To do our duty in this case, we thought we might outline other areas in which county taxpayers could save money if they are upset about how much a new jail would cost.

Those who insist we should study the jail issue to death might want to devote some time to studying a few of these ideas, too.

Law enforcement

We need police in every town, but do we really need to have separate police chiefs, separate detectives, and separate support personnel in every community?

A unified countywide police force, operating out of the sheriff’s office like ambulance crews operate countywide, could save huge amounts of administrative overhead.

Likewise, does each officer really need his or her own costly new vehicle, complete with costly radios and emergency equipment? We do not expect officers to work 24/7, but their cars certainly could. They do in most cities.

Education

No one wants to close community schools, but do we really need five superintendents, five clerks, five business managers, five transportation supervisors, and five activities or athletics directors in a county of fewer than 13,000 people?

Imagine the administrative savings not from closing schools, which we would keep open, but from consolidating administration. We also could do a better job of sharing teachers, particularly teachers qualified to teach advanced, college-preparatory courses.

With consolidated administration, we also might not need yet another separate bureaucracy focused on special education.

Public services

Why does every municipality need its own fleet of garbage trucks and crew of garbage workers? If garbage is collected only one or two days a week, could not the same trucks and same crews simply move from one community to another during the week?

And what about public works crews, both municipal and county? Buying a shared pool of equipment, rather than each group having its own, would be much more efficient. We also could hire a top-notch countywide administrator to oversee all the efforts and maybe include GPS monitoring so we could be sure crew members were not simply turning their equipment on and letting it idle in their front yards while they went back to bed or tended to personal chores on the government payroll.

Peabody had it right regarding water treatment. Why build your own plant when you can get water from Hillsboro — which begs the question why Hillsboro and Marion did not put in a central water treatment plant at the reservoir instead of each building their own.

Other areas

The words alone strike fear: “economic development.” Talk about a messed up area. Never have more people, more committees, and more bureaucracies been brought to bear on a single target with less overall success. Pool all the money spent to hire or support these efforts and we might be able to bring in someone with a proven track record of successful development instead of relying on good-intentioned amateurs.

OK. Is that enough? Before you rush out to write letters condemning these ideas, understand that not all of them are ideas we seriously would embrace. We listed them here merely to point out that cooperation and trust often can save a lot of money.

Right now, Marion County seems to exhibit as much cooperation and trust as do NFL owners and players arguing over a new collective bargaining agreement.

If we really want to save money, none of the ideas we listed is any sillier than what we will have to do with jail inmates if Tuesday’s half-cent tax is rejected.

If the only reason you are tempted to vote against the proposal is to keep taxes low, try your hand at coming up with some other savings like these.

Otherwise, how about trying cooperation and trust by agreeing that paying for a new jail is something we really have to do. Sure, it will hurt some businesses and individuals. But we really have little choice — unless we want to tackle savings like those suggested here instead.

Last modified March 31, 2011

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