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Parting with a few sweet sorrows

Nearly two months in Marion County — visiting, coaching, filling in, and otherwise getting into professional mischief — have convinced me of several things.

With few exceptions, people here are unusually friendly, caring, and responsible — justifiably yet humbly proud. Random acts of kindness — from business people, government workers, and just plain neighbors — are a way of life. Community services from senior centers to public health flourish.

Rarely is the trust that people so willingly place in each other betrayed. When it is, as in a savage gang rape in Peabody, the impact is even more devastating. As a result, rumor mills, as in Peabody’s flag desecration, work overtime.

What this area has to offer is considerable. Even with no special events going on, downtown Marion was crowded Saturday morning. A survey of license plates indicated more than half were from out of the county. The city’s quaint charm, unique restaurants, and burgeoning arts and crafts are strengths to build on. An attractive new art gallery, renovating a formerly disused Main Street storefront, is one of the most encouraging developments the area has seen.

Preserving our heritage

In Marion and elsewhere in the county, that charm faces serious challenges, however. While many homes and businesses remain showplaces of bygone architecture, an unfortunate number have fallen into disrepair or been abandoned in favor of cheap, new structures that never will stand the test of time.

Restoring a building like Marion County Health or a facility like Marion’s City Building auditorium may have a higher short-term price than other options, but any excess expenditure will be an investment in keeping the area vital and attractive. Preservation is not just a cosmetic nicety. It conserves resources, bolsters tourism, and shows us to be good stewards of a legacy impossible to rebuild once lost.

Hillsboro, with a new hospital planned, and Marion, with significant renovations to its hospital beginning, once again are keeping up with the times, as they did with state-of-the-art pools and athletic facilities in both cities, museum work in Hillsboro, and a performing arts center in Marion. Now is the time to begin looking not just at building anew but also at preserving the old.

Taxing our patience

Politically, never has there been such fervor to limit taxes, yet never has the anger fueling that fervor been so seemingly misplaced. Everyone wants to talk about cutting waste, but no one seems willing to do much about it.

Although county commissioners have looked at savings through staff attrition — and Dan Holub is fighting a particularly noble battle against a costly, misguided pipeline tax exemption — they admit their budgeting consists mainly of layering new expenses atop unchallenged old assumptions.

Side roads in the county are in critically poor condition. Throwing money at the problem may be popular, but what is needed is leadership: recognition that we simply may have more roads than we can afford and that we may not be getting peak efficiency out of our road crews.

Our collective failure to act on the county jail is beginning to border on criminally negligent. Delaying vital improvements to an overcrowded, wholly inadequate facility while arguing over exotic new forms of taxation must end before there is a tragedy that will cost more than any proposed new tax. Commission Chairman Randy Dallke’s suggestion to revisit all county expenditures may be a better first step in finding ways to pay for a jail than is toying with a questionable tax scheme unprecedented in 150 years of state history.

Developing our future

While Peabody and its development director, Shane Marler, have scored apparently amazing successes and Hillsboro is pondering aggressive moves such as taking over electricity sales in its industrial park, Marion seems helplessly mired in banality, its city council seemingly more interested in quarrels than in governing.

In most of the nation, government workers (including this writer) have had no raises in two or more years. For the second consecutive year, Marion city workers are in line for a raise in excess of the cost of living. Hillsboro city workers are in line for no raise; in fact, two positions will be cut. In Marion, city funding for ballparks is set to soar, and the city subsidy to summer recreation is unchallenged. Yet the city’s contributions to the business community, housing, and schools for things other than athletics were targeted in a budget work session in which not one cent of planned increases in routine operating costs — the potential sources of government waste — was questioned. Why is it, for example, that Marion picks up trash twice a week while Hillsboro picks it up only once weekly?

Remembering our promises

Yesterday’s election, among the most bitter in memory, at least holds one promise. If State Rep. Bob Brookens returns to Topeka, the message sent with him will have been loud and clear. We want him, and all elected officials, to keep us in the loop but, first and foremost, to do the right thing — not necessarily the popular thing, knee-jerk railing about abortion or immigration or taxes, or the thing party leaders may tell them to do.

People here are caring, responsible, and trusting. Politicians should be no different. If they are and they work hard, the problems we face with taxes, roads, jails, economic development, and issues as yet unimagined can and will be resolved. We expect nothing less of those in whom we have placed our trust.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Aug. 5, 2010

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