Priorities of local government — Part III

Cal Beverly's picture

I shifted one word in the column title, from “essentials” to “priorities.”

That’s the shift that some local governments need to make as well: Determine what local government services are absolutely essential and then prioritize from that point.

In my first column, I put “Public Safety” at the head of the list of absolute essentials. “If government does nothing else, it must keep our persons and our property safe from attack, confiscation and destruction,” I said in Part I.

But since the combined resources of any organized community are less than infinite, citizens cannot afford to have their income taxed to the extent that would provide an armed officer and a trained medic stationed at every house in the community. Thus choices have to be made: How many officers can we as a group afford, given our other financial obligations, how many medics, how many firefighters?

Then we move on down the list: How many public employees are required to support this primary function and what can we afford to pay them, based on the market value of their services?

What would be the second highest priority? You would expect that Priority One would receive the most public funding, wouldn’t you? For example, in total, the current budget in Peachtree City adds up to about $12 million for police, fire and EMS. That’s out of a $26 million budget. So that’s about 46 percent of the total city budget being spent for public safety. We can argue about whether we can get by with less, but the total shows an adherence to an absolute priority.

So then, logically (and at the risk of simplifying the argument) the second most absolutely essential local government function would receive the second highest level of funding, right?

In Peachtree City what receives the second highest level of funding?

If you said Public Works, you would be wrong. Public Works keeps streets passable, public lands cared for and public buildings inhabitable. But that otherwise essential function does not show up as Number Two. Public Works — an absolutely essential local government function — comes in at no better than Number Three on the city’s priority list.

Nor are all the City Hall clerks and administrative staff and managers in second place. In fact, added together, the categories of executive services, administrative services and financial services — all the little behind-the-scenes office work that keeps a city’s paperwork machine running smoothly — comes in at about $2.5 million, slightly behind Public Works’ $3.16 million.

So what is the Number Two “absolutely essential” service deserving of the second-highest expenditure of our hard-earned Peachtree City tax dollars?

It has a fancy name: Leisure Services. It’s mostly publicly-subsidized recreation; part of it is the city’s library.

I could make a passionate case on behalf of a library being near the top of the “nice-to-have” list. I could not and would not make any such case for recreation facilities and recreation personnel being the third-most important public tax expenditure in any city in this economically strapped nation.

Under our democratic republican form of government, we choose representatives and empower them to make those decisions on our behalf. In an ideal community, those who run for elected office make clear what their governing priorities are and we choose the ones most representative of our own sense of public priorities.

Our elected representatives in Peachtree City just authorized a half-million dollars for a plastic bubble over a year-round swimming pool, all paid for with our tax dollars. How many of our 36,000 citizens ever set foot inside that bubble? And why are my tax dollars being spent for a plastic bubble? We go from “tennis welfare” to “swimmers’ welfare.”

This would NOT be my definition of “absolutely essential.”

This is my definition of “bloat” and “waste” of taxpayers’ money.

A word about that much-used and never-proved “property values” argument: If that fancy swimming hole has to lose its roof and be open only during the summer months, and if that slices a thousand dollars off my amorphous “property value,” I can live with that.

The economy, Mr. Obama and the tax assessor have already done more damage than that to me and my property. And seem poised to inflict even more.

In fact, the essence of my argument of essentials and priorities has to do with realistically determining what we as a community can live with and what we can live without, and then electing representatives who share those values.

As much as absolutely possible, I want them to stay out of my wallet. I’m glad to pay a reasonable amount of taxes for police, fire and EMS. I’m amenable to a bare-bones, stripped-down City Hall administrative staff.

But if I want to go swimming, I’ll swim in my homeowners association-funded pool or I’ll take a cold shower. But I will not ask — indeed, demand under force of law — that you pay for me to float under the bubble.

And, by my way of thinking, any public official who spends public money for such “bubbles” should be ashamed. Voters this fall will get to decide which are “bubble” candidates and which are seriously essential.

[Cal Beverly has been the editor and publisher of The Citizen since its first issue in February 1993. He has covered news in Fayette County since 1982, and in this part of Georgia since 1969.]

secret squirrel
secret squirrel's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Where was the outrage back then, Cal?

You've been in PTC about as long as I have, Cal. I'm curious where the outrage was when the city was high on the hog. I've looked back and don't see too many editorials decrying the civic amenities which garner PTC national media attention as "The Best Place to ______." You're pretty quick to lather up a catchy headline when Money, USNWR, or USA Today lauds us with some superlative ranking. It would be nice if instead of trumpeting those accolades, you instead write a letter to the editor of those publications and demand the retraction of the award since it was largely earned on taxpayers backs.

I also missed all of your outrage directed towards twenty years of bi-partisan wars which have exponentially drained our national economy more than any other governmental expense.

While I may agree with your point about the justifications on using taxpayer money for leisure services, it's undermined by your selective and self-serving headline hunting.

roundabout's picture
Joined: 01/01/2011
We are being "conned" again!~

Our congress, when going about their duty of authorizing tax expenditures, has run up a debt of over $14,000,000,000 by refusing to gather sufficient tax to avoid the unnecessary debt.
They even allowed the last President to fight wars of about 2 trillion of that 14 trillion, "off the books."

That has been con #1

Now enough of the congress people are refusing to pay that 14 trillion dollar debt they made in order to hopefully win the next elections!
WASP, (Wild Ass Splinter Groups, members of the GOP) are holding their own party hostage for now impossible demands in order to cause a Depression by so many people being out of work with the shut down, that President Obama will be defeated. They hate him that badly! Don't care about consequences!
That is con #2

The ONLY way to pay down that debt is with taxes AND spending cuts that won't cause more unemployment. One big way is to QUIT the ignorant middle-east wars immediately.
We need jobs to improve our economy enough to have a balanced budget. To get the jobs we will have to sell infrastructure bonds enough to build our infrastructure, and furnish sufficient water and power for 100 years.

We must not let a group of obviously mentally deficient rabble-rousers control the GOP.

roundabout's picture
Joined: 01/01/2011

I mentioned infrastructure bonds in the above comment. However it appears that it will be called a "Bank," who will sell instruments for cash to finance our re-building of infrastructure.

This was mentioned today as a part of, I think, the democrats proposals to the republicans.

If the three trillion in cuts stays in the bill, there certainly won't be any money for not only infrastructure or for the states for schools, police, fire, roads, and unemployment compensation.
GA right now owes about 3/4 billion for borrowed money for unemployment payments.

cogitoergofay's picture
Joined: 04/11/2006
Cal's Editorial: "Swimmers' Welfare"

I generally agree with your entire trilogy of comments (or perhaps there is more).

The metamorphosis from tennis welfare to swimmers' welfare is indeed what has happened in PTC. We wanted it. We got it. Being a young family community (which will inevitably decline one day) we have built a large quantity of ballfields. We elected people like Mr. Imker who touted a half million dollar bubble to continue winter swimming for a small group of high school swimmers who did not want to drive to the pool in Fairburn any longer. This type of mentality led to the protest over the discharge of a good guy, a popular guy. He was, of course, head of the opulent Leisure Services. Reductions and changes needed to be made. But he was a "nice guy" in a "nice program"---- it was therefore deemed by many to be hands off.

Swimming in PTC....Very interesting history. The pool was built at the demand of a special interest. Actually, it was built for a subgroup special interest of another special interest. The pool was built for youth age group swimmers, specifically SCAT. It was built to promote essentially middle school and high school swimmers. As a consequence, they dominate the pool hours so that essentially the rest of the larger group of swimmers are for all purposes are greatly restricted, in terms of hours available to swim. If you work, forget it---- the hours available simply do not work unless you want to swim at 8:00 at night.

Nice stuff ? Yeah...Needed ? No....

roundabout's picture
Joined: 01/01/2011
cogitoergofay: Zippo... understand!

The building of such things as swimming bubbled pools, elaborate Tennis Centers, Amphitheaters, and twice too many ball fields for now, plus NOTHING for teenage socializing and training, is the reason our current Mayor is hated so by the good old boys and gals!

He and Brown want to avoid such ram-rodding. He has to fight!

Ninja Guy
Ninja Guy's picture
Joined: 06/26/2010
Well, I Guess We Now Know

that when out traveling, Editor Cal stays at the no-frills Motel Six! There are many Motel Six communities around the US, but only a few like the Ritz Carlton! If you ever did stay in a nice place, did you, or would you, demand to pay Motel Six prices or demand that they rip out the fancy carpets! Bare concrete is good enough for anyone! Editor Cal, Palmetto calls! I'm getting more in favor of Dar's ice rank plan day by day!

All Hail the Bubble! Let's get another one for the Glenloch pool, which we can then rename the Beverly Aquatic Center!

Go Braves! Need to find some middle relievers and one big bat. Gonzalez need to be gone from SS!

Classical liberalism is the great fiction by which grumpy old white guys try to make sure that nobody has any more fun than they do, which ain't much!

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