Friday, March 02, 2007

Small Town Slobberknocker

“You can lead a politician to water, but you can’t make him think.”

- Texas cowboy philosopher Kinky Friedman

I’ve just been through a primary campaign for City Commission in Emporia, Kansas, my home town. There were eight candidates prior to the election. Now there are six, and I’m one of them. So, from today until April 3rd it’s going to be a rugby match, or as they call it out here, a real slobberknocker. On January 25th I was running dead last according to a Gazette poll. The official results, which will be finalized today, show me running fifth, with about 12 to 13 percent of the vote. One of the incumbents is in my sights and I’m sensing momentum swinging my way. I intend to run hard and hit the themes that have gained me some traction in this race. I intend to win!

As I write the issues before the people of this good city are becoming evident. Valuations are coming out and, while it should be good news, it isn’t. Residential property values are increasing by an average five percent. Business valuations are increasing by an average of eight. That would be good news if the increase in value was due to an increase in individual wealth. But it’s not. Emporia’s median household income ($30,000) is 27% below the Kansas average of $41,000. Individual poverty rates here are 17.9%. In raw numbers it means that over 5,000 Emporians are living in poverty. Our real estate taxes are now beyond the stratosphere, just about ready to break out of orbit and soar to the stars. If our mill levy here in Emporia were applied to the average property value in Massachusetts, for example, the average Bostonian’s real estate tax bill would almost double, from $3,700 to over $6,200!

Yesterday the city engineer met with the current commissioners and recommended an increase in sewer rates of 25 to 30%. The rationale given was that it would only increase water bills by six to eight dollars a month. I guess that doesn’t seem like much to the commissioners or the city engineer. It certainly does to folks living on fixed incomes. It certainly does to the five thousand or more of us living on the economic margins, scraping for every penny to make ends meet. The reason given for the increase was to cover depreciation costs and equipment upgrades. Well, that dog won’t hunt. I kinda’ wonder if it didn’t have something to do with the $600,000 the city took from the water fund a while back to cover shortfalls in the general fund. Then, to make matters worse, the plan was touted as a way of avoiding a bond issue over the matter. In other words, city leadership doesn’t want the people of this city to vote on the issue. They seem to think that the people of this city constitute a perpetual ATM machine and really shouldn’t have a say in the matter. All the city needs to do is press the right buttons and money will magically flow from our wallets to theirs. They play a zero sum game with us, saying that if we want better services we need open the spigots and give ‘em what they want. Well, that dog won’t hunt either.

It’s time for change! The first thing the city needs to do is to reduce its residential portion of the mill levy by 8 mills and reduce the business levy by 10 mills. That would give Emporians the real value of added equity without a tax increase. It can and should be done! Of course that would mean the city would have to either flat line or reduce its budget. That needs to happen, given current trends the possibility now seems remote.

If current trends continue this city is going to have to revise it’s motto to read something like: “Emporia, our taxes are just a bit lower than Sweden’s.”

In the forums leading up to the primary, some of the other candidates said they didn’t like the negative talk, that everything in Emporia is just fine. Well, I’d love to be able to say that, but it wouldn’t be true. I’ll address that tomorrow. Stay tuned!


Bob said...

Phil, Nice to hear from you. I was getting worried because you hadn't posted since October. Good luck with your campaign.

Mike Stubbs said...

Phil, you hit the nail right on the head. This needs to go to the gazette.


Douglas said...

I'm trying to visualize a slobberknocker, without much success...One of the slobberknockers is missing the second b, maybe the first one...

Wishing you and your campaign the best of success...

Rob in L.A. said...

The Kinky Friedman quote at the top of the post is a variation on a saying attributed to the late writer Dorothy Parker. When asked by someone to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence, Parker reportedly replied, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


Parker's is good, and so is Friedman's variation on the theme. I think Friedman's is more relevant to my campaign.