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Piping the Payer

It’s been a while since we heard from regular reader William Payer, whose friends call him Bill.

A quiet sort, Bill typically comments rarely, most often only on the first Tuesday in November — and then quite often to the great surprise of elected officials who hadn’t bothered to chat with him previously.

Bill isn’t one of those tea-sipping tea-partiers like Rep. Tim Huelskamp or Gov. Sam Brownback, who seem to think government should just say no to spending any money on anything except tax incentives for rich people.

He’s more like Donald Trump, offering simplistic solutions to complex problems and not worrying who gets offended in the process.

We caught up with Bill as he was taking a break from the second job he works while on vacation.

We chatted as he weeded his lawn — something he wishes his neighbors had as much pride to do — in the tiny Marion County community of Horners, a not-so-wide spot in the road that is soon to add “Corners” to its name so it can lay claim (sorry, Pilsen) to a gleaming new KDOT sign proclaiming it birthplace of Gilligan’s Mary Ann.

Q. So, Bill, what do you think about this fancy motor coach the schools are buying so kids can travel to contests and sporting events in style?

A.Hey, we’re just like Lake Woebegone. All our kids are above average. Just look at how half of them show up on the honor roll each semester. They shouldn’t have to sit with football gear or a sousaphone on their lap the way I did while trudging four miles through snow, uphill both ways, to get to school.

It isn’t so much the fancy, schmancy motor coach that bothers me. It’s how far kids have to ride.

Five school districts in the county and only occasionally do they play each other in sports. For other games, kids have to be driven hundreds of miles just so they don’t have to compete against kids from schools with ever-so-slightly different enrollment.

Seems to me we could save a lot of gas — and teach a lot more science, math, English, and other things that might be more useful than glory days memories after graduation — if we didn’t have to drive kids all over the state every time they compete.

I mean, didn’t you see “Hoosiers”? Don’t you ever watch the NCAA basketball tournament? Real accomplishment is about overcoming odds, not about manipulating them in your favor. What are we, the damned Yankees?

Q. So what about hiring new full-time EMTs, the way the county wants to?

A.I’m still wondering whatever became of the day when average townsfolk with a lot less training really and truly volunteered to help out on ambulance runs. Now “volunteers” get paid, and half the time we have more really expensive ambulances scattered all over everywhere than we do volunteers to operate them.

So what will the full-timers do? Work the shifts when volunteers don’t want to? That’ll be a great work schedule, guaranteed to attract the best and brightest. Or will they take all the “normal” hours, leaving us in the same exact position of not having enough “volunteers” during off hours?

Seems to me there are several problems here.

What about insisting that all law enforcement officers go through EMT training? I mean, we have more police and deputies per capita than most urban areas do, and they mainly protect property when not seizing fancy cars drug dealers drive. Couldn’t they fill in to protect human life if we run short on volunteers for some stubbed-toe ambulance call?

Then there’s the silliness of all the rules. Why, if there’s only one EMT in one town, do dispatchers send him or her plus a full crew of two from another town? State law requires two, but if you’re already getting one locally, why not just send one, not two, from out of town — and give overworked volunteers a break?

Those are local rules. How about state rules? It’s not like Moses brought them down from a mountaintop on stone tablets. They were written by bureaucrats, answerable to elected legislators.

Instead of legislators constantly blah-hahing about abortion and immigration and the Second Amendment — none of which they can legally do anything about — maybe they should get the bureaucrats who do answer to them to change some of the rules that make running a rural ambulance service difficult.

Q. You don’t sound like much of a fan of our state officials.

A. Oh, no. They’re great. They’ve made sure every half-wit in the state is armed and ready to protect us at a moment’s notice from an imminent ISIS invasion by having an Uzi hidden under their Guns and Roses sweat shirt while getting all liquored up at some neighborhood watering hole.

I mean, I really want to vote for a congressional candidate like Huelskamp’s righter-than-thou opponent, whose campaign literature prominently features a picture of his overly large family wearing camouflage and carrying guns.

Maybe his wife and kids are heading to Marion to hunt chickens, which now seem to be taking over abandoned homes. Then again, they’re probably a protected species. I mean, city officials assure us there are only hens, but these must be darned unusual hens. A bunch of them seem to crow like roosters.

Q. That sounds a little like criticism of local officials, too.

A. Oh, no. They do a great job, too. Why just last week they sent out an undated note telling everybody on the north hill to hermetically seal their toilets in case sewage erupts from them during routine cleaning.

An elderly woman I know has been sitting for days with her legs crossed, doing a little dance, hoping someday to be able to resume using her toilet without having to fear it will turn into Old Faithful.

But I see in this week’s paper that the note she found on her door may have been a bit exaggerated, like all those weather warnings that interrupt the relatively few TV shows you might actually want to watch.

At least the new advice from the city has managed to accomplish something women the world over have tried in vain to accomplish for years: getting men to leave the lid down. Now if the city could just come up with definitive advice on whether toilet paper should unspool from the front or the back.

Q. So what about all this economic development talk?

A. Hey, if Donald Trump wants to move Trump U to Marion, so much the better. Well, maybe not.

Seems to me it’s going to be hard to agree on any economic development strategy if we can’t first agree on who’s going to develop the strategy. We’ve had more swapping of seats on the county’s new “eco devo” panel — which must stand for “devolution” instead of “development” — than there are corporate takeovers in the actual economy.

Whoever said democracy is a messy form of government must have had Marion County in mind.

Q. Well, you must like the idea for merging the extension offices for Marion and Dickinson counties?

A. Why not? We’ve already given half of our legislative district to Dickinson County. Why not give our extension office, too?

Think about it. None of this saves a red cent if everyone keeps their jobs. It’s kind of like the new ambulance billing system. First, we hire clerks to handle billing, then we out-source billing to some company that charges 10 percent, but we keep the billing clerk. Merging extension doesn’t save anything unless you eliminate jobs — and services.

Extension always has been a cooperative service, meaning if your local agents aren’t the No. 1 expert on something, the extension network can put you in touch with someone who is. So that can’t be the reason.

What’s really behind this? K-State, absorbing cuts from the legislature, doesn’t want to pay. Neither does the county. By creating a new district, extension expense would vanish from beneath the tax lid that holds down county spending and be transferred to a new tax, in addition to what we pay the county. Sounds like another shell and another pea to me.

Q. Well, Bill, you’ve giving us a lot to think about. You and Donald seem equally adept at winning friends.

A. Thanks. Sometimes you have to go a little overboard to encourage people to think about things like a real person instead of a politician.

Take what Secretary of State Kris Kobach is doing to get rid of the huge problem of less than a dozen fraudulent votes by wiping thousands of eligible voters off the rolls.

I wonder what will happen when these disenfranchised voters realize America was founded on the idea of no taxation without representation and stop paying their taxes.

Maybe that’s the revolution Donald seems intent on fomenting. Nah. It probably wouldn’t test out well enough as a sound bite.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified June 9, 2016

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