Thursday, March 12, 2009

Curt Kovener: We’ll All Pay for Government Consolidation

A view of fire dept funding is included in this posting:

Posted By On March 12, 2009 @ 8:17 am In HPI Weekly


CROTHERSVILLE - Despite a stinking economy, a hostage holding stock market, unemployment idling nearly one in every 10 Hoosiers, and the majority of the population scared about their future but trying to put on a brave face, it seems all some elected leaders and their hired guns want to talk about is how much government consolidation will be the state’s savior.
The Governor touts the findings of his appointed Kernan-Shepard Committee on how to improve Hoosier government. Kernan-Shepard was a flawed committee providing a jaundiced view of Hoosier life. Not a single member of Kernan-Shepard had any experience is town, county or township government. They were mayors, former state legislative officials and representatives of big business. Every member of Kernan-Shepard resides in an urban big city.
So I ask: What the hell do any of them know about life as we live it out here in the country? Visiting their weekend cabin in Brown County or on Lake Wawasee doesn’t qualify them to speak on living life out here in the sticks.

You see in the big cities, they are used to mass transit so that folks living on the edges of the city who are in need of services can board a bus and be dropped off where ever they need to go. Alas, no buses serve the residents of Jackson, Scott or Washington Counties.

And the government consolidation pundits claim that much of the government services business can now be handled on-line. But unlike the metropolitan areas where residents can have a choice of high speed internet (a necessity to do business with government on-line) only portions of rural Indiana have the needed high speed internet connection. Some folks living less than 3 miles from Crothersville and Austin are unable to get DSL and are still forced to use dial-up service, if that can be called technology by today’s standards. If you live in the bucolic hills of Jackson or Washington County you can forget about wireless broadband because of the terrain or lack of cellphone signal.

And the big city proponents (they really get bent out of shape when they are called that because they know it’s true and have no response other than to call us “backward”, “status quo” and “resistant to change”) would have us believe that someone in the county seat knows better how to provide fire protection than on the local level.

A county wide fire protection service would be required to provide equal funding & services. Jackson, Washington and Redding Townships in Jackson County currently have their fire protection provided by residents paying dues to their respective departments. The more “efficient” county-wide fire protection method would mean a property tax increase in those three townships…even though lower property taxes is the main motivation behind government consolidation.

The needs of Crothersville and Vernon Township along the much traveled I-65 corridor are vastly different than the western county where hilly, curvy roads would prevent some large fire apparatus used in the eastern part of the county from navigating to a fire scene or medical emergency.

And remember that all county residents will not pay equally into the fire protection system. The City of Seymour—where about half of the entire county’s assessed wealth is located—those residents, businesses and industries would not pay anything to fund county fire protection because the city has their own paid fire department.

Do you think that a county seat bureaucrat using only the currently available dollars will have your best interests at heart and be able to improve funding for all rural fire departments?
Should fire protection be determined by the county will some current fire stations be closed (a synonym for consolidation) for financial reasons? And should that happen, while we may save some in tax dollars, some will be greeted with increased insurance premiums for rural home and farm coverage since proximity to a fire department is a factor in the insurance premium equation.

I travel to the courthouses of Jackson and Scott County each week to gather the news. Should the consolidation effort succeed, I am not sure where the respective counties will place the needed offices to deal with residents’ concerns. Wouldn’t it be “penny wise & pound foolish” if to save money by a consolidating government, that more government offices must be built, leased or purchased?

Recently the Indianapolis Star reported on the amount of surplus dollars township government had squirreled away. What wasn’t included in the report is the amount of money being saved in cumulative (that means save it until you need to make a purchase) fire equipment accounts. It is much more damning if you can report how government taxes its residents while having piles of money in reserve.

Besides, here in the country aren’t we raised to save for a rainy day? Or would they want you to believe it is better to get a loan from the bank for operating funds and then pay the bank interest using tax dollars? And speaking of the Indianapolis Star, if all of Indiana is to operate the same, do you really believe that the state’s largest newspaper and the Crothersville Times have the same business model? There are differences; onesize does not fit all. If the state’s leader doesn’t believe that I will be happy for our 5-foot-something governor to exchange suit coats with me for the day.

The government model the big city folks have developed may work quite well for urban, metropolitan areas. I don’t live there & don’t have much inkling of their needs and issues so it would be improper for me to offer suggestions. That is diametrically opposed to the urban based government consolidation proponents who haven’t done their homework for what works in non-urban areas.

It seems the big city advocates just want to force it down our throats and tell us it’s good for us.

Kovener is publisher of the Crothersville Times. He serves as Vernon Township trustee in Jackson County

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