During Tuesday’s meeting of the St. Johns County commission, one crucial concept was expressed by Administrator Michael Wanchick that resonated with me, as a taxpayer, but I am not convinced got through to the five commissioners — as few as three of whom can make decisions on how our taxes are calculated and spent.
The term Wanchick used in describing the need to open the Pine Island Fire Station was, “essential public services”. Later, in another context, one commissioner described the elemental function of county government to provide for the “health, safety and welfare” of the community.
Faced with the inability to operate all city and county programs and to staff at levels when ad valorem taxes were seemingly endless, we need to quit beating our collective heads against the wall and accept the fact that we need to stop spending money — not keep approving new taxes and existing tax increases.
We should recognize that public money has to be available for those services considered so essential to modern life that, for moral reasons, their universal provision should be guaranteed, and, they may be associated with fundamental human rights — such as the right to water.
Once those needs are met, the rest of the overhead, regardless of how many years they have been underwritten by local government, can only be allowed future funding to the point that we have adequate funds to pay for them. We don’t borrow, or bond, or raise taxes or government fees to finance anything above that which are the “essential government services” we have identified.
We should rely of the city and county to provide for public education and information services, public safety, planning and administration, public roads and transportation, waste management, environmental and water services, as well as social health and housing services.
Private sources of electricity, gas, telecommunications, and other comforts should be regulated, but not operated by local government. Government should provide services that we, as residents, could not provide for ourselves.
St. Johns County should stop continued operation of non-essential services that are not totally self-sustaining. Take the property appraiser’s estimate of taxable value for 2012, subtract the minimum cost of essential services and if there is anything left, use it to retire existing debt before apportioning out the next dime.
If there is not enough money just to cover the minimum cost of essential services, even after adding in grants and user fees, start combining department functions, laying off middle managers and non-essential employees, close down unnecessary county buildings and rent or sell the surplus property.
Don’t raise taxes, don’t provide non-essential services, shrink the size and cost of local government and change the culture of spending in city and county purchasing departments.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer