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When conspiracies no longer are theories

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you. The challenge is in separating real conspiracies from fake ones.

Whether they come from insidious insinuations inserted by Russian hackers or initially well-meaning fears fanned by fringe commentators somehow profiting off them, we clearly have more than enough unfounded theories to choke a democracy on.

No, the government won’t be able to track your DNA and know your location 24/7 if you’re lucky enough to get a COVID vaccination anytime soon.

No, an Armageddon-like class war isn’t brewing — unless, of course, some of the gun-toting Bible-thumpers who think there will be one actually start it.

We’re not even going to get into QAnon theories lest we dignify them by detailing what they contend.

But, yes, in the poker game of life, it often feels as if the deck is stacked against us, particularly when we don’t pay quite enough attention to what our friends in government are up to while perpetually reshuffling the cards.

If you’re a Social Security recipient, for example, you probably got a really nice letter last week telling you your benefits will be going up — but your monthly check will get smaller. The sleight of hand in this case is that rising Medicare taxes will more than offset whatever minimal cost-of-living increase was due.

If you’re a Marion County taxpayer, you also got one or more notices in the mail about your property taxes — complete with a new tax you probably never heard of.

It’s interesting timing how taxes bills seem to come out right after, rather than right before, we cast votes. Whether pandemic vaccines were politically timed pales in comparison to what we annually do with property tax bills.

Truth is, the new property tax shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was approved earlier this year by a handful of die-hard extension supporters after county commissioners bought into a slick presentation about how much better the county extension office would be if it were merged with Dickinson County’s similar office.

That “Chisholm Trail” item on your tax bill started then and there, with very little public attention and no clear statement that it would be much, much more than a mere transfer of expenses from one tax levy to a different one.

In fact, the new tax represents a whopping 46.7% increase in how much county taxpayers will be pitch-forking over to pay for extension. Dickinson County makes out only a little bit better. Taxpayers there will be paying 33.3% more after the merger. And in neither case did the county switching the tax from its own levy to a special district’s new levy take the opportunity to lower what it was taxing us to pay for expenses no longer billed to it.

That’s a double tax whammy worthy of at least passing consideration of whether someone might actually be out to get us.

The real winner in all of this, other than people who work for extension, appears to be Kansas State University, which puts its brand on the extension operation but contributes only a paltry 13.3% of its cost. That’s a bigger victory for K-State than most of its sports teams are earning these days.

Meanwhile, Dickinson, with 61.6% of the district’s population provides only 60.8% of the district’s tax revenue. That’s a bad deal for Marion County, especially when you consider that the Dickinson office includes services there that are provided in Marion County by a separately funded department on aging, which continues to be a major source of incidental taxpayer expenses like travel by personal vehicle.

Not to be satisfied with a minor conspiracy that greatly increased funding for extension at a time when everyone else was tightening belts, county commissioners on Monday began seemingly innocent discussion about allowing additional long-term camping at Marion County Lake.

It sounded like a fine idea until it became clear that the area that could become a campground for transient workers installing wind turbines is immediately adjacent to — and largely blocking the view from — some of the most expensive real estate in the county.

Campers and permanent residents are at times the Hatfields and McCoys of Marion County Lake. Having tents and RVs and tattooed, bearded workers blocking the view from half-million-dollar mansions isn’t going to resolve that feud anytime soon, particularly since the county for decades has resisted all temptation to develop other land inside Lakeshore Dr.

Another conspiracy? Truth is, we doubt it. Our guess is that this particular idea will have all the loft of a dirigible filled with malleable metal. But it does make us wonder what else might be happening when we don’t pay extremely close attention to what’s going on in other rings of the five-ring shouting matches at government meetings.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Dec. 3, 2020

 

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