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  • Last modified 416 days ago (March 29, 2023)

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'Tax and spend' isn't just in D.C.

With all the words we print each week — more than 20,000 this week alone — it’s hard to imagine us accidentally leaving out a few, but on frantic Tuesday nights, we sometimes do.

Most weeks, it’s a relatively minor thing — except, of course, to the people involved. A couple of weeks ago, however, we left out something important to everyone: county commissioners reflecting woefully on how they can’t keep spending taxpayer money so freely.

It’s not that their words were matched by deeds or that they showed any real inclination, before or after making the comments, to actually practice what they were preaching.

But at least a couple of them — Randy Dallke and Kent Becker — seemed to undertstand the irony of the county handing out across-the-board $2-and-$3-an-hour raises at a time when taxpayers footing the bill are lucky to still be earning the same pay they did before COVID-19.

Employee raises are popular, of course. The economy of our area — and of Marion in particular — is heavily dependent on paychecks and purchases by our burgeoning units of government, from county and city to hospital and schools, with extension and all manner of other services in between.

At some point, however, all levels of government have to realize that taxpayers who support them cannot endlessly furnish money so that every employee is paid his or her heart’s desire and every office is in the shiniest of buildings with the shiniest of furnishings.

Grants to residents and businesses to improve sidewalks and driveways would seem more likely to improve community life than remodeling every office in the ever-expanding courthouse complex.

Businesses carefully weigh when they increase prices they charge customers. Government can simply add to the tax levy or do some fancy talking to make it sound as if they haven’t.

The proposed new concession stands, locker rooms, and other sports-related improvements the Marion school district wants voters to approve are a good example.

Could we use them? Absolutely. But the claim that they won’t increase our taxes is at best deceptive. True, if we vote “yes,” our taxes won’t automatically go up. Not mentioned is that if we vote “no,” our taxes will go down — quite a bit, in fact.

We’re still not sure how we plan to vote, but we wonder whether these tough economic times might be an appropriate juncture to pay off the debt we temporarily put up with for a new gym, pool, and performance center rather than automatically renew that debt for locker rooms, concession stands, and fancier lighting.

Although the schools’ dollars are more, the level of excess seems dwarfed by expansive plans the county health department has for building fancy new quarters, most of which would duplicate facilities already available — and able to be contracted for — in county hospitals.

We don’t object to the latest purchase in the county’s real estate buying spree — the former food bank, bought for just $1. But some of the earlier purchases made us wonder whether we were being governed by sober commissioners or drunken sailors.

Pay scales are a similar conundrum. If we truly are having difficulty attracting employees, we might need to pay more — though that hasn’t helped most private businesses in an economy in which the biggest problem is that many people simply don’t want to work at all.

Why is it that some jobs, which we seem to have no trouble filling, get raises just like the others? That’s particularly true for elected positions, which seldom have a shortage of candidates, and for top staff positions, where in Marion, for example, the city clerk just was hired for nearly one-third less per hour than her assistant is being paid.

That’s why we’re sorry we left out Dallke and Becker’s comments. They and others sitting in government meeting rooms need to be reminded of their words — and encouraged to give those words more than lip service.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified March 29, 2023

 

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