Folks occasionally ask me why we expended so much effort on the recent petition drive. The answer is easy – We did it because we care about the people of Lyon County and the impact that political decisions have on them.
I’m also asked why I’m against this merger. I remind them of the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning – “Let me count the ways.”
One of the first arguments proponents of the merger made after the two to one decision was that the cost to taxpayers would be negligible. It was a political way of saying, “This is no big deal.” If they’d put their argument into the form of a logical proposition it would have read, “This is no big deal…I can afford it…Therefore, everyone can afford it.”
The logic was as bad as it was incorrect.
The cost of this merger will be higher than Extension proponents claim it will be. They inadvertently let the cat out of the bag a while back when they said this was really about increased revenues. Now they’re trying to hide that fact from the people in a flurry of misinformation.
Those of us who worked on the petition drive spent over a month going door to door, meeting fellow citizens on downtown sidewalks, watering holes, restaurants, and businesses. We saw the community needs up close and personal. We saw retired railroad workers who had come upon hard times. They know that this really is a big deal. We met widows who know full well that the “little bit” being touted means something they won’t be able to afford if the merger is approved. We met laborers who work for minimum wage, folks who work a hard forty hours a week. They understand that one person’s “no big deal” is very big indeed to them. We met men and women on the brink of insolvency. Here are some of the things we heard from them. “The last thing we need is more taxes.” “If they keep this up I’m gonna’ go under.” We heard the questions. “What was wrong with things as they were?” “How can they be so out of touch with me?”
Chris Walker framed the big picture in this debate in January. It was beautifully stated. He noted that there are 52 different taxing entities Lyon Countians have to cope with. This is how he put it: “While many entities that receive tax money work on the premise of lobbying for little increases, it is the taxpayer who gets hit with the big increase in the end when all the little increases are added up.” He cited some of the organizations and departments dependent on taxpayers for support, including Newman Regional Health, USD 253, Emporia State University, the County fairgrounds, and others.
Chris also said: “At what point does our community ask elected officials to have vision with regards to our taxes?” “Our world and community have changed dramatically since Emporia’s boom years. In the internet age we have lost business and population and need to be careful of how we spend our money.”
Amen, Chris. Amen!
Things were difficult here in January. It’s now spring and things haven’t gotten a lot better. Dolly Madison just published a WARN notice to employees. Management and labor intentions may be good, but they’re navigating their way through stormy seas, with hundreds of jobs on the line. While we hope for the best, the truth is that the future is very uncertain. Fanestil is still in the appeal process, with another fifty or so jobs at risk. Home foreclosures are at high levels. The unemployment picture is murky, at best. Our poverty rates are going up, not down. Household incomes are low, and stagnant.
I think it’s reasonable to ask, given our situation, why we need another taxing entity, and an independent one at that. What was wrong with things as they have been? The answer? Absolutely nothing!
As things stand now, Extension represents one line item on the Lyon County budget. Each year county departments submit budgets. The Commissioners review each one, then review the county’s financial condition and make adjustments where necessary. It’s not a fun process. There’s a lot of bloodletting. I know. I did annual budgeting for FedEx operating units.
Extension has to get in a prioritized line with a lot of worthy players. They have to compete with the hospital, the Sherriff, etc. They know we really need the hospital, the Sheriff, and that they just might be further down the priority list.
Yet, in spite of the difficulty, Lyon County has been very generous, maybe even generous to a fault, with Extension. You’d think a bit of gratitude would be in order. Instead, Extension wants more than our generosity. They want more of our money. Something is very wrong with that picture.