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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: The Elephant in the Room

© Another Day in the Country

The other day at my exercise spot, a new friend approached me and said, “We’ve heard that someone from our town (out of this county) just moved into yours. We wanted to warn you to be careful. They did so much damage to our little town.”

Well, I knew who she was talking about. It’s the usual scene, not obeying the very few ordinances we have to protect the community. Our beleaguered town council would have to make a call — a job they hate and I don’t blame them. It’s not easy to confront and it’s not easy to lead.

In our small, disappearing towns, we have a too-huge percentage of ne’er-do-wells, move-in’s as Aunt Gertie dubbed them, who destroy rental houses, shoot at signage, break the rules, don’t have jobs, get involved in drugs, keep producing children, and sap our county resources. They move from one town to another and often their reputation precedes them as they attempt to do the loop before the bill collectors close in.

Meanwhile, our struggling tax base is left with unpaid taxes, unpaid sewer bills, unpaid water bills, derelict properties, etc. The smaller the town, the harder we’re hit.

We could talk for hours as to why we have this destructive element in our midst and how they got this way, but they are here, part of our reality. When that needy element becomes the majority in a little town, that town is doomed.

Now, perhaps I shouldn’t have named the elephant in the room; I can feel you squirming in your chair, but then again, maybe here’s a place to start.

We can come up with all kinds of wonderful new ideas, we can create new parks, low-income housing, more efficient street lights; all of which can be ruined in a blink.

How do we change that dynamic in small towns without a police force? This needs some creative rumination.

There is also the reality of less in our area, although less is not inherently bad. In the “good old days” (which we’ve already established, weren’t always good) there were more people partly because more hands were needed to create without modern machinery. Those days are gone. No use in whining about the good old days. We need to change our focus because there is some good news here.

Less is a wonderful marketable commodity in a crowded environment. I came back here to spend another day in the country because of less. My time with my aging family was limited. Because of less time, I came now to be with them.

There’s less traffic in our county and I love driving down an open country road. Housing costs less in Marion County and so do groceries. You can’t afford a home somewhere else — you can get one here. You want to try running a bed and breakfast where the cost and the regulations in another spot could break your back — you can probably try it here. I may have to drive farther to the grocery store but gas costs way less than it does in the Napa Valley. Less may become our greatest resource.

Here’s something to consider, especially for the aging population. Do you feel safe in your town?

In my little town, I felt safe when I came here. I knew the people in town, I had family in the area, I got acquainted with the local sheriff, I knew my neighbors and their kids and I soon learned whom I could trust and who I couldn’t rely upon. Maybe naively, I never locked my doors unless I was out of town. While there were some folks who broke the rules, it wasn’t the majority. We watched out for each other.

Safety is a major consideration in a community. How do we inspire that kind of caring? How do we do our best to ensure our citizens safety? How do we model this for our children and teach them their responsibility for their own safety and that of others? Feeling safe means feeling at home, knowing you belong. Can we market “safe” to city dwellers and future business owners?

I remember how much it meant to me that a county sheriff came through regularly. Especially when he came at night, he’d leave a little yellow slip on our office door at the old Tampa Bank Building saying that he’d checked and “all was well.” That kind of caring made me feel safe. If I had a flat tire unexpectedly, I could call a neighbor. Knowing you have backup is really important any day in the country.

Last modified March 9, 2016

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