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  • Last modified 72 days ago (Feb. 8, 2024)

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Dollars and sense

A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon it adds up to real money. That iconoclastic quote, misattributed to Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen, still describes Congress 60 years later. Swap out “billion” for “thousand” and it describes local government, too.

Visit any local meeting — Really, you should! — and you’ll hear all manner of talk about new hires, new projects, new opportunities. Many are good ideas. All take a lot of new money.

Even though every politician makes the same old promise about keeping spending in check, rarely are financial implications checked when pondering new ideas.

Monday night’s Marion City Council meeting was as good an example as any. As happens at most governmental meetings, council members had their heads in the clouds, enthusiastically discussing all manner of initiatives — many of them, quite laudable — but never once seeming to land on the ground to talk meaningfully about the cost to taxpayers who will foot the bill.

They were told there’s an opportunity for a grant to pay for 80% of constructing a bike trail from Marion to Marion County Lake. Bike trails are great. It would be nice if this one went around the lake as well as to town. The only thing not discussed was the remaining 20% of the cost.

Sure, the city could back off if the price tag becomes too large. But the price wasn’t even hinted at before council members agreed to have an engineering firm draft a proposed concept — which, I doubt, the firm will do for free.

If the concept and eventual plan are approved, the local 20% might be paid for “in kind,” but that begs a larger question. We taxpayers still pay for the time, equipment, and supplies going to “in kind” work. If they really are “extra” that we don’t need, why did we pay for them in the first place? And what other projects — like a supposedly dangerous bridge on Locust St. — might get short shrift if we transfer resources to an “in kind” contribution.

Council members also were told some Marion merchants want the city to appoint an economic development director and maybe even replace Margo Yates when she retires as community enrichment director. Whether Yates’s services are essential or a luxury, they cost money — something like $84,000 a year, all told. That’s the equivalent of 6 mills on a property tax bill.

The council then considered bids for new computers, at $100 more per computer than elsewhere. Each council member would get one — even though half already are using their own. Don’t they know that laptops, tablets, and phones all can be set up to use more than one email account?

Finally, the council heard how police could get a grant to pay for 50% of six new body cams — one extra and one for an unfilled position. No one questioned the proposal until a spectator asked what was wrong with current body cams, which have produced clear videos of such things as newspaper raids.

“They’re from Amazon,” was the reply.

A lot of people who pay the city’s bills view that as a financial necessity, not an insult. Apparently, when money comes out of others’ pockets, there isn’t much inducement to want to save it.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Feb. 8, 2024

 

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