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  • Last modified 302 days ago (Feb. 2, 2022)

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Lending some advice on borrowing

Psst. Have I got a deal for ya! Y’know that old TV set you got? Yeah, the one with the picture that don’t look so good even when the cable doesn’t cut out for the last few minutes of a big game?

I can get a brand new one. Sure, I’ll make some money on it, but don’t you worry about that. I’m just doing you a favor, knowing that you’ve already maxed out your credit cards. Ain’t I a great guy?

I can write you up a brand new loan — one that goes way over your credit limit. And you don’t even have to ask the old ball and chain for permission to get it. Just hide a little note on the door of the fridge giving her a few days to nag you about it. If she doesn’t, it’s all yours. And you don’t have to worry a bit about having to save up or cut back on all the other really important things you buy, like brews to drown your sorrows while some guy named Mahomes breaks your heart.

Far-fetched? Not really. That’s basically the line county commissioners swallowed hook, line, and sinker Monday at around the same time as they were talking about the county lake’s heating fishing dock.

In this case, it’s not a TV set but repairs to blacktopped roads that the county wants. It’s not a scrap of paper on the fridge that will start the process but rather a legal notice to be published in this newspaper. And it’s not the commissioners’ better halves who will have the right to nag, if they choose to do so, it’s the voters and taxpayers of the county.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same pitch you’d get from a loan shark, although in this case the shark might be clad in shark-skin leather and it’s doubtful anyone will be coming around seeking to break a few bones if the loan isn’t paid off.

Exceeding credit limits is a bad idea, whether it’s done by a household, a business, or a unit of government. Cutting out the non-essentials — and every taxpayer knows there are plenty of those in the county budget — is a much better option. Save first, borrow only in emergencies, and you’ll never to worry about Guido coming around to collect or you being so submerged in debt that, when a real emergency comes, you drown.

Even a little kid playing Monopoly knows it’s the beginning of the end when you have to mortgage all your property. Maybe commissioners need to harken back to their children to learn that simple lesson.

The county tends to have two or three sheriff’s deputies on patrol at any given time. Having three or four vehicles for patrol would provide a margin of error. Why do we have more? So deputies will take care of their cars. It seems there’s a better answer. Tell them to take care of their vehicle and fire anyone who doesn’t.

Our road and bridge department seems to have more different vehicles and pieces of equipment than it has people to operate them, yet we constantly seem to be in the market to buy more.

Every office has its own wire Ma Bell phones. The county could save a bundle by switching to broadcast voice-over-IP phones. But that would require multiple offices to cooperate with one another.

And then there are employee raises and things like half-million-dollar ambulance garages and even more expensive way-stations for trash. If we really wanted to make roads our No. 1 priority, how come all those other things got in line first and left nowhere near the amount of money needed to pave our most-used thoroughfares much less put rock on our back roads?

Opting to ignore state mandated debt limits may be something the county legally can do, but just because it can doesn’t mean it should. And it would set a lot of minds at ease if the pitch to do so weren’t coming from a company that stands to make a pile of money out of allowing the county to dig itself deeper into debt.

When that little refrigerator-note of a legal notice appears in our classified pages, take a minute to consider the implications. For decades even centuries, governments were allowed to incur debt only if citizens voted in favor and the debt was not excessive. Now the county is seeking the power to incur debt without voter support and in excess of what the state considers financially prudent.

All this effort to get things done quickly and saddle future generations with ever-increasing financial burdens seems puzzling — until you realize that a majority of the seats on the commission will be up for election this year.

“Progress is our middle name,” incumbents will say. And it’ll be true — as long as you understand that “progress” is just another word for “debt.”

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Feb. 2, 2022

 

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