As a concerned citizen and regular spectator of local affairs, I sometimes wonder: what are we thinking?
We complain about the traffic that chokes our roadways, yet I don’t know anyone in this town who doesn’t own a car.
We get upset about to build a cell phone tower in our neighborhood, yet I don’t know anyone without a cell phone.
We lament the loss (or absence) of local business, yet regularly patronize the countless chain stores in our midst.
We oppose the CSX Railroad’s proposal to build an “intermodal facility” (aka: train-to-truck transfer station) in our backyard even though we regularly purchase the very products it would distribute to those chain stores.
We complain about crime and then object to the idea of a local police force because we don’t want our taxes to increase.
On and on it goes…
Now, before I go any further, I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to those who may soon find a cell tower in their backyard or 300 or so tractor trailers a day zooming through their neighborhood. I, too, would be upset if someone wanted to erect an ugly cell tower in my backyard or suddenly found myself living next to a noisy truck transfer station. That said, my intent here is not to single anyone out, but rather to highlight, in a general sort of way, what some might see as hypocritical behavior. Or to put it in a nicer way, a misguided attempt to have it both ways.
But wait: is a regular consumer of Kellog’s Corn Flakes who’s opposed to the construction of a CSX transfer station near his home really the same as a rush-hour commuter traveling alone in his car who complains about there being too much traffic?
I don’t think so. Unlike the commuter, who suffers on the roads with everyone else who travels by car, the corn-flake eater who may suddenly find himself living next to an intermodal facility is slated to bear more than his share of the burden as compared to other cereal eaters.
Obviously, when it comes to local issues, asking, “Who benefits?” “What’s the cost?” and “Are those benefits and costs spread equally?” is a worthwhile endeavor, especially when things like the city’s budget are up for debate.
This brings me to my point: in the past few weeks I’ve seen a rash of comments about the city budget on our neighborhood e-mail list which contained some rather questionable assertions such as, “[Despite the recession] the city continues to spend money as usual,” and “[Irresponsible expenditures] could mean that mine and your taxes could increase to be able to fund things which are not necessary,”
Putting aside the fact that phrases like “irresponsible expenditures,” and “things which are not necessary,” are completely subjective, I disagree with the notion that saving a few bucks in taxes, regardless of what the cuts might do to the city, is somehow preferable to having a well-run municipality. Is this really how we want to go?
Of course, the city should do its best to eliminate wasteful spending (e.g., eliminating redundancy, ending programs shown to be ineffective, or choosing not to fill vacant positions) and make the most of our tax dollars, but if we want a city worth living in—a city run by attentive and committed staff who deliver excellent services from which we all benefit (e.g., Public Works)—then we’re all going to have pay our share.
We can’t have it both ways.
Smith is resident of north College Park. He blogs (occasionally) at www.ncpinformant.com and you can follow him on Twitter: @smithflap.