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Tough Choices

September 21, 2008 - Dan Voigt
In covering the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, I’ve listened to many conversations and discussions on how to give the taxpayers the best “bang for their buck” as the old saying goes. Every year, during budget time at the beginning of the year, the various department heads and the elected officials all do their best to try and project what it will take, financially, to provide the services to the taxpayers for the coming fiscal year. In nearly every case, the supervisors are basically rolling the dice, hoping that the budgetary needs will pan out. However, there are situations that will arise, and can’t be anticipated. The Supervisors examine each of these situations carefully, and try to be the best possible stewards of the tax dollars. In the past few years, the ongoing cost of fuel, salaries, benefits and the general cost of doing business, has given the supervisors cause to discuss ways to cut costs. At one time or another, various ideas on how to cut costs have been talked about. As a for instance, the idea of contracting out the mowing of road shoulders throughout the county has been discussed of late. One cost cutting move was the elimination of painting fog lines, or the lines along the edge of county pavements. That move saved several thousand dollars. Changes to some programs offered to county clients receiving mental health services have resulted in savings to the county as well. I have heard of some counties in southern Minnesota that contract with their township trustees for maintenance of gravel roads. All grading, graveling and snow removal is put up for bids by the township trustees, who pay an individual to grade or plow snow. The contractor furnishes their own maintainer, and the county takes care of hard-surfaced roads. In my travels north of the border this summer, I’ve noticed that gravel roads do not have their shoulders mowed, as a general rule, unless a landowner does the mowing. There has been considerable discussion locally about the topic of mowing, and a couple of part-time employees have been hired by the Secondary Road Department to do mowing until the snow flies. The mowing has a functional purpose, as it allows for snow to blow freely across roads, rather than to create drifts. The mowing serves a purpose, but is it a service that could be eliminated? There are arguments both ways – yes it could, it’s only a cosmetic thing, and no, it aids in snow removal in the winter, and it helps avoid accidents, especially when deer are partially hidden by tall grass in the ditches. Some counties in the state are looking at four-day work weeks, with 10-hour work days. There are merits to this idea as well, and drawbacks. In the winter, what three days of the week do you not have snowplows operating? What days of the week is your courthouse open? There are lots of tough choices to be made, not only in government, but also in everyday life. The people we elect to serve us need to hear your input. But, they need to hear it honestly, sincerely and perhaps most importantly, be able to attribute it to someone. Anonymous letters, whether suggestions or complaints, need to come from someone who isn’t afraid to be known. If the elected officials needs to contact a person to obtain more information, it isn’t possible when a letter is signed, “A taxpayer.” The same policy applies here at the newspaper. We receive anonymous letters on occasion, and sometimes, the letter writer has valid points. But, by refusing to give their name, in most cases, the letter is filed – in file 13. In Tuesday’s board meeting, one of the supervisors received a letter signed by “A taxpayer”. While the letter had some good points, the board wished that the author would have signed their name. It can be a tough choice to speak one’s mind, to take a stand on an issue, or to make a decision that may well be unpopular with many people. But, most importantly, we need to remember that we are fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to make those choices. –by Dan Voigt


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