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In search of silver linings

Ten weeks in the town I still call home (though my legal residence has long been elsewhere) have me feeling a bit like the weather — trying valiantly, but often in vain, to provide a little relief.

Only once in my 10 weeks here — early on, at that — did I feel anything beyond a few sprinkles of rainfall. Good news seemed equally elusive and widely scattered. Both, however, are on their way, and the time is right to begin looking forward to them.

In coming days, Marion County will open its new jail. Seldom do people point with pride to a place where lawbreakers end up confined. In Marion County’s case, towers and zoning aside, pride would be well justified. Amid a tsunami of anti-tax protests, county voters were wise enough last year to see a pressing need and address it with yet another piece of high-quality public infrastructure.

In coming months, thanks to a small tax increase, the county also will begin addressing serious problems with a system of roads that grew out of control decades ago, when oil and asphalt prices skyrocketed. Although the City of Marion unfortunately seems to be relying more on borrowing than on new revenue, it appears poised to do the same with its streets and alleys.

The big news coming for Marion will be a much-needed vision for revitalization. It already is coming into focus with a proposal for a new, privately financed park shelter, which we hope will be placed well into the park, so as not to block views of its natural beauty.

Next up, within a few days, will be the unveiling of a plan not just for beautifying downtown but for transforming it into a signature area for the city — one that will support and enhance the type of business development most likely to keep the city prosperous for decades to come.

Will it extend the theme of three-globe lights and a park-like setting throughout the business district, enhancing the charm of classic stone architecture? We can’t wait to find out — and not just because we want it to look pretty. We hope it will market the city, enhancing its “brand” as an investment in future economic vitality.

Projects like these are but a fraction of the downpour of good news I wish I could have been in Marion to witness this summer. Even frequent reader William Payer, whose friends call him Bill, would be proud to get behind them — particularly if, as Bill is wont to point out, government first eliminates any waste and featherbedding.

Sure, we have some messes to clean up — both literally and figuratively. Just as I spent one of my last days in town plucking weeds from our office’s sidewalks and parking lot, government needs to root out all traces of overpaid or underworked staff. Unlike tea partiers, however, we don’t want to focus solely on weeds. We need to see flowers and crops, too.

Mother Nature may not have been kind to the literal versions of anything but weeds this summer, but the community is poised to see a bountiful harvest of public improvements if each of us takes it upon ourselves to nurture them.

That means civic involvement — from donating to the park shelter to supporting tax increases when needed to questioning governmental priorities and procedures. We must be ever vigilant to ensure that we’re not just growing government but rather are growing projects that yield a strong economy in the future. Each tax dollar we save by challenging wasteful spending that does little other than make public employees (like me, in my non-Marion life) comfortable is another dollar we can invest in projects that will pay long-term economic dividends.

Government is full of boring mumbo-jumbo about funds and grants and unfunded mandates. The day we think we can’t control it is the day democracy fails and bureaucrats end up squeezing every drop of future life out of the system and into excessive raises, excessive staffing, and excessive trappings.

Keeping government focused keeps the community focused. That’s a job for which we all must accept responsibility.

My cat is sold on Marion. It’s where she receives a daily dish of milk from a kindly benefactor who insisted on packing a small jar so I could further the habit immediately upon my arrival in Illinois.

Unfortunately, Marion can’t thrive merely through acts of kindness. We’ve done a great job to date making life relatively comfortable. Now it’s time to make our future profitable. It’s time to have a central plan that will transform our economy and make sure everything that both taxpayers and tax spenders do is targeted at that plan.

To do less is to deny future generations the comfort we now take for granted.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 9, 2012

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