A popular bumper sticker suggests, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force needs to hold a bake sale to buy bombers.”
The first half, at least, would be a great day indeed, and that holds true for other essential community services as well. Not too many years ago, at least in the memory of many people now living, it was possible to fund such necessities as schools, hospitals and fire departments locally.
It’s still possible in some instances, and it’s still a good goal for services to be funded by the people who utilize them. Unfortunately, drawbacks exist. For big goals and expensive projects, the tax burden in small, rural communities can be unsupportable. Most such projects now depend on some participation from granting agencies.
While one train of thought insists that the strings attached to grants make them undesirable, it’s also fair to say that the mechanism for funding public projects has evolved in this direction. Grants provides resources to develop less affluent communities in ways that will help them grow the tax base.
Last fall, voters in Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 approved a mill levy to build a new high school, albeit with substantial grant funding. This fall, the hospital district and two local fire districts will be asking voters to help them with funding.
The Montezuma County Hospital District — not Southwest Memorial’s management but its landlord, responsible for expensive capital improvements and equipment — isn’t asking for a tax hike. Those will still need to be approved by the voters. The hospital district just asks to be exempted from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights restrictions that currently limit its sources of funding.
That’s not an illogical way to fund hospital improvements. It would enable the district’s mill levy to remain as low as possible while still allowing the hospital to pay for needed improvements and equipment. It’s the way the nonprofit world works.
Detractors will say that, in the end, all grant funds can be traced to taxpayers. That’s essentially true, in that almost all individuals and corporations do pay taxes, although grant money isn’t collected directly as taxes here or somewhere else.
Others will say that if a public entity — a municipality or county, or a special district like the hospital district and fire districts — want to spend more money, they should be required to appeal to their constituents. That’s an awkward way to run a government, however, and it leaves those boards at the mercy of voters who base their decisions on a desire for the world to be different than it is.
Except for manufacturers, everyone wishes that medical equipment cost less, just as everyone wishes that health care was less expensive. It’s hard for the average citizen to understand why ambulances, fire trucks and protective gear cost so much. The fact of the matter is that local voters cannot control the costs of such equipment. They can only refuse to spend money and, in doing so, limit access to important services locally. In some instances, that’s the right plan. In others, including with the hospital district’s ballot issue, just voting “no” can begin a downward spiral that makes life more difficult, and potentially more expensive, for local residents and makes the community less attractive to newcomers.
Refusing to participate in a common funding mechanism is shortsighted. The Journal recommends a “yes” vote on Ballot Issue 5D.