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  • Last modified 83 days ago (May 24, 2018)

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Rocky and rudderless

I’ll freely admit that I never tire of the chuckles I get when county commissioners start discussing something, anything. Following where it goes is often like trying to win a Whack-A-Mole game while juggling five china plates.

Monday’s discussion about whether to reimburse Myron Schmidt a whopping $375 for cleaning out a ditch was rather straightforward by comparison. Schmidt asked, and commissioners turned him down because — get ready for this — it’s policy that people get permission before doing anything about their roads and ditches.

We don’t disagree with the principle at all. It’s common sense. Preapproval helps to determine if the proposed fix is appropriate, and also helps to allocate budget dollars effectively.

What’s wrong about that rationale is that there IS no policy.

Commissioners affirmed as much Monday when they freely admitted having paid others for repairs they had done without prior permission. Those weren’t exceptions, as they claimed, because there’s never been a policy established. There have been a lot of wagging mouths saying there should be one, and a lot of ideas about what it should say, and that’s it. While a written policy is supposedly in the works, there isn’t one.

Of course, if commissioners hadn’t agreed to pay triple the reasonable rate to rent a building for planning and zoning when they were functioning rent-free just a block away, there would’ve been money to pay Schmidt for his troubles.

Schmidt already had done a favor for the road and bridge department, letting them use his golf course parking lot for their trucks. Superintendent Jesse Hamm said the clogged ditch was on his list, but he just hadn’t got to it yet.

Perhaps Schmidt would have had more luck getting his $375 if he had tallied up what the hourly parking fees would have been, or the amount saved on gasoline or diesel fuel through reduced mileage. Dump trucks have a little more impact on parking lots than golf carts.

But it was time to make a stand on something, and $375 must have seemed as good an opportunity for commissioners to pull together for the good of the county and enforce a policy that doesn’t exist.

Granted, one is supposedly being written, but unseen drafts are to policy what toothpicks are to supporting an elephant — worthless.

Even if there was a real policy, why would we expect commissioners to follow it? We have a genuine example of their disdain for policy in the still-existing neighborhood revitalization program.

It wasn’t too long after I came back to the Record that I called commissioners to task when they gave a five-year tax abatement to someone who didn’t even apply for it until after the project involved was finished.

The policy was, and still is, written and clear: An application must be submitted and approved before construction begins, not after. Tax breaks are supposed to be an incentive to build, not a reward after the fact.

Commissioners didn’t care. They did it again, and once again, we took them to task in this column. Eventually they decided they should take a look at how the program was working.

Almost no one receiving the tax breaks said that they were an incentive to build. They would have done their projects anyway. The program with a noble purpose wasn’t at all delivering on its promise to stimulate development. In that respect, it was a total failure.

Never mind the facts, commissioners said. Let’s just set it aside for now and see about building a new transfer station, or adding on to the courthouse, or moving departments out of the Bowron building so we can abandon it in horrid condition. We’ll get to that neighborhood revitalization thing later.

Much later, they finally did. They took a look at it again last year, and discovered absolutely nothing new. It still wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. The county was still giving away our tax dollars as a pat on the back to folks who didn’t need it.

And what did our champions of fiscal responsibility and policy do about it?

Absolutely nothing. The program is still there. Applications are open. People can still get unnecessary handouts for projects that ultimately do little to revitalize neighborhoods.

Schmidt’s unique little golf course pulls a whole bunch of folks into the county who have no other reason to be here. It’s a well-designed, well-kept executive par-3 course that gives golfers fun and a challenge in a picturesque setting.

It would appear that if Schmidt wants to try again at getting reimbursed for his efforts, he might have better luck if he first puts a couple hundred cows around the course.

I’m sure there must be a policy somewhere that limits the number of bovine hazards per hole, or one that restricts the overall level of methane generated by a golf course. If there is, then Schmidt stands a decent chance of having it ignored. If there isn’t, then he has at least two or three years to try before someone decides to make an example of him again. Commissioners may not be the same by then, but it would seem there’s little more enduring in county government than ineptness. It’s almost as if it’s a policy. Or not.

— david colburn

Last modified May 24, 2018

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