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  • Last modified 150 days ago (June 21, 2018)

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If only we were bureaucrats...

Sitting at my desk, I find my eyes wandering toward a tiny piece of black tape covering a minute slit in the leather seat of my chair. At times I knock my left knee against a hand-bent piece of copper where a handle formerly held my keyboard tray in place.

My keyboard itself has a fw missing lttrs on its kycaps, and the spacebar at times requires an extra hard touch lestmywordsruntogether.

Ask me to stand up and I’ll show you where you can find an almost invisible patch on my trousers, repairing a snag from a bicycle ride. When I sit back down, you’ll see I’m typing not with the latest and greatest of software but with a slightly older version that still works quite well.

When it’s your own money at stake, all of us have a tendency to make do with things that aren’t quite perfect. Why switch to Windows 10 (confusing as it is) when Windows 7 or even good ol’ XP still does the trick? Why spend $1,000 on a new cell phone when you haven’t even figured out all the useless tricks your old one does?

Now glance across the street at the courthouse, look down the block at city offices, or gaze across town at our schools. A completely different logic applies. If it’s new, we need it — even if we don’t — but only if someone else — we poor taxpaying slobs — are footing the bill.

Centre and Peabody-Burns schools both are buying replacements for classroom white boards — $80,000 worth, in Centre’s case. Next fall, kids will be able to write on the boards with their fingertips instead of felt pens. They can view videos or computer images without having to plug in a projector. And they can shrink and enlarge writing by squeezing and flexing their index finger and thumb.

For $80,000, you could hire two honest-to-goodness teachers who might expose students to actual learning instead of video-game wonder. But who would mouth the words “gee, whiz” if you did?

Our chief judge wants to spend a bit more than $30,000 so court officials won’t have to plug and unplug projectors in the courtroom and jurors won’t have to watch not to trip over extension cords.

Although police here have never released a single one of their body cam videos, which are supposed to be exact records of what happened, they still want to spend $10,000 to let them censor the videos in ways that standard commercial software can do for a lot less.

Marion is renovating its downtown, and while the infusion of cash might be welcome, just who had the bright idea that putting seats on a retaining wall along the edge of Webster Auto Service’s parking lot would make it a gathering place for people to watch the world go by? A million dollars would have more than renovated the historic Bowron Building for the next 100 years. But how would people sit outside Webster’s?

The list goes on: More than $3,000 for two walkie-talkies for courthouse security. Costly legal advice. Continual raises for longevity regardless of performance. Endless rides in luxury buses to extremely distance sports events. Burgeoning fleets of cars and government-paid cell phones for seemingly every employee. An ambulance garage, purchased for well over its appraised value, that has since become a money pit of repairs and renovations, including another couple of thousand dollars’ worth this week. An economic development corporation that has done more to enrich its own bank accounts than has to add to the economic well-being of the county.

Maybe we’re old-fashioned, curmudgeonly, or downright mean-spirited, but we can’t help but thinking how money expended for any one of these things might have made the difference between a place like MacGregor’s Pub staying in business or being forced to close.

When you hear the populist cry for reducing government, it isn’t programs that actually help people that they want to get rid of. It’s all the nickel-and-dime (or, rather, incidental tens of thousands of dollars) stuff that they are targeting.

As governments head into budget season, make sure you aren’t fooled by claims that they’ve held the line on mill levies. They shouldn’t start with the idea that taxes should stay the same. They should start with the idea that every penny of spending needs to be justified as if the decision-makers were paying for it themselves.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified June 21, 2018

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