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  • Last modified 31 days ago (Feb. 26, 2020)

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Government fiefs and tax-dollar thieves

Cooperation. Sharing. Avoiding needless duplication of costly equipment and even more costly personnel.

Steps in these directions could save hard-pressed taxpayers thousands upon thousands of dollars each year.

They could free up resources so governments could finally begin addressing problems that seemed intractable. If we’re lucky, they could even do both.

You might think, therefore, that this would be a hugely important goal for local governments — especially in a political climate in which tax-and-spend is held in about as high esteem as a lone KU fan is at a K-State sporting event.

You’d be wrong, however. Last week’s overture by Burns to share equipment and personnel with Florence was a laudable event more unusual than Willy Wildcat warmly embracing Big Jay courtside.

Oh, sure, there’s talk of combining extension districts in Marion and Dickinson counties.

But despite the talking points K-State has sent out, that’s not about improving service or about reducing cost — except, possibly, to K-State.

What you don’t hear in Marion County is what you do hear in Dickinson County: The move could reduce tax rates there but likely would increase them here.

And what of the better service? We worry it may be like the “better” service readers of daily newspapers in Salina, McPherson, Newton, and Hutchinson have seen now that those papers essentially share a shrunken, single staff.

Alex Simone’s fine story in our paper this week notwithstanding, politicians and bureaucrats like to talk a good game about cooperation and sharing, but when our tax dollars begin rolling into their coffers, saving takes a definite backseat to spending.

Why does virtually every municipality in the county have to have its own highly specialized equipment, used only a few days a year?

Why did we build — and, more importantly, staff — two separate waterworks to serve Marion, Hillsboro, and Peabody?

Why does Marion, virtually alone in the world, think it needs to pick up trash twice a week when the same trucks and crews could just as easily spend the second half of the week picking up trash in another community?

Bureaucrats and elected officials seem intent on having their own equipment and their own staff to run it even when sharing would make more sense.

And it’s not just cities that fail to share. Look at the county and, in particular, its ambulance service.

For political reasons, we now have two full-time ambulance crews 24 hours a day. We’re paying for four attendants and two stations — one in Marion and one in Hillsboro. Some politicians even are pushing to add a third full-time station, in Peabody, adding even more manpower and infrastructure costs to the most burgeoning area of the county budget.

Do we really need all of that? Numbers — the type county commissioners should be looking at instead of poring over data on the size of gravel — say otherwise.

In the 117 days since Oct. 29 — a full third of a year — Marion County ambulances have been called to transport more than one patient between midnight and 6 a.m. exactly zero times.

That’s right. In a third of a year, we’ve never needed an overnight shift with two costly stations and four costly attendants.

In the past third of a year we’ve called out two ambulances only three times between midnight and 6 a.m., and in all three cases, the patient for whom the second ambulance was called declined to be taken to a hospital.

Two-thirds of the nights during that period, absolutely no ambulance was called between midnight and 6 a.m. And in a quarter of the cases in which an ambulance was called, the call went not to one of the full-time crews in Marion and Hillsboro but to part-time volunteers in Florence, Peabody, or Tampa.

In total, according to analysis of dispatches recorded by the newspaper, our two full-time ambulances were called on average only once every four nights.

Of those calls, less than a third — one every 12 days — were traditional ambulance runs. Another third were transfers from one health care facility to another, and the final third were calls in which no patient was transferred.

In total, the county needed one full-time overnight ambulance station just 18 times in 117 days, and half of those calls were to take people from one health care facility to another.

While it’s comforting to know that this level of service — and the service is, indeed, first rate — exists, the question becomes whether our belt-and-suspenders approach to emergency medical care is a necessary precaution or, to use an unfortunate metaphor, an example of bureaucratic overkill.

In emergency medical care, water treatment, public works, and a host of other areas, do we really need both belt and suspenders when our wallets have been so thoroughly drained that our pants will stay up without any support?

Perhaps the belt and suspenders are needed only to give us false security that we can’t be “pantsed” by bureaucrats and officials who refuse to meaningfully consider reasonable ways to save taxpayer money while not reducing service.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Feb. 26, 2020

 

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