And now, we pause this regularly scheduled editorial for a reminiscence into yesteryear, with a pause in The Land of We Told You So.
On Oct. 1, 2003, in a News-Times editorial headlined "New projects have later costs, too," we cautioned citizens seeking big-ticket items in that year's sales-tax referendum: While it's easy for the penny tax to pay for a new facility, we said, property taxes have to pay for operation and upkeep:
"It must be remembered that for every public field or building constructed with painless sales-tax funds, property tax (revenue) must be tapped to operate those facilities. More ball fields mean higher Recreation Department payroll and higher maintenance costs; more libraries mean more librarians, more computers and more books. And unless we want those staffers to operate only in the daylight, there's a light bill to be paid, too."
The editorial ended with this comment: "In considering public demand for new amenities, county officials must temper wish-lists with the ongoing cost for operating those services in the future.
"The sales tax is still the best way to fund such large, one-shot construction projects. But county commissioners must be on guard lest those fine-sounding, special-interest improvements create an expensive, never-ending burden on all taxpayers."
Back here in the present, this is just the scenario now confronting Columbia County officials. The county has already absorbed the cost for additional personnel to operate the county's relatively new Justice Center and expanded Detention Center. And this past week, commissioners agreed to pay more than $42,000 to keep the county's brand new, wildly popular main library open longer.
County Commissioner Tom Mercer, during the county's recent budget discussions, accurately noted that nearly half of the county's funds go to the operation of public safety related efforts. Just a fraction goes to the county's long-underfunded library system.
It is a pretty safe bet that children who spend time in a library will be less likely to grow up to be adversarial participants in that criminal justice system.
Seen in that perspective, money spent to keep the county's libraries open and accessible is an investment in the future - perhaps one in which we won't need to spend half of our tax dollars just to keep our community safe.
When that day comes, it will be a pleasure to again say "we told you so."
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