In many respects, Sarasota County did a commendable job squirreling away rainy-day funds and then reacting relatively quickly to the downturn with budget cuts. More than two years ago, the county instituted a hiring freeze and has since eliminated 250 positions.
More is needed, and the county is considering a range of options. But looking at just what cuts are being considered makes one point abundantly clear: Sarasota County government is trying to do too much. Way too much. And much of it is our fault.
Part of the reason for the county’s overindulgence is that, despite its rainy-day fund, the county barely nibbled at the property-tax rate during the boom years of 30% property appreciations, and so money flooded into county coffers and was largely spent. And that goes to the second part of the reason. Without firm principles of limiting government as the Founding Fathers tried to teach us, politicians and bureaucrats everywhere try to fix everyone’s problems and meet every perceived need.
Here are a couple of things the county is looking to reduce now after many cuts already. Ask yourself if this looks like Jeffersonian government:
• Privatizing management of Lido Pool and the clay courts at Payne Park. Does local government really need to own and operate pools and tennis courts?
• Perhaps cutting back on painting lines on baseball and softball fields to just once at the beginning of the season. Should local government really need to provide sporting entertainment?
But government-can-do-it-for-you types are only part of the problem. The rest of the problem is you — those of you who keep going to government for every little want.
A recent commission meeting provides a crystalline moment for how far we have declined in understanding liberties and rugged self-reliance.
Some residents wanted the county to put a $300,000 dome over the pool at Arlington Park. Why? Because the water in the shallow pool gets cold quickly in the winter months and they use that pool for their “water walking” — exercise or rehab for mostly elderly people. There are 28 people who use the pool specifically for that purpose. The full pool is available and stays warmer, but it is deeper, and some may not be able to do their exercises.
See, it is not enough that taxpayers provide public pools, but the pools must be tailor fitted for each individual’s needs.
So people showed up to the commission meeting literally begging the commission to spend $300,000 on the dome — which would be more than $10,700 per current user. The commission rightly turned them down.
But there would have been a time in our history when self-respecting people would not beg government officials for niceties. They would have done for themselves or just toughed it out. Tough is not really a word that applies to most of us anymore.
I guess the question is: Are we the heirs of the Americans that de Tocqueville called lovers of robust liberty — the ones who died for freedom and tamed a continent — or are we just soft, subservient wards of the state we have come to rely on for everything?
Personally, I prefer not to answer the question just yet.
+ Less lonely on school tax
Opposing the extra one-mill school tax is like mugging mom and eating her apple pie, at least that is how the proponents always paint us lonely opponents.
Over the years, as I have questioned the need for the extra tax in a district that spends an enormous amount of money per student every year, I’ve been tarred with far more expletives than can be printed in a family paper.
And that is a personal reason why it is so gratifying to see a committee of the Republican Party of Sarasota recommend against renewing the tax in March. The rest of the party establishment almost certainly will not go along with it.
Too bad. Because this time around, there is finally a groundswell of opposition. Enough people are willing to look past the ridicule and insults to see that the school district simply does not need the money.
In fact, while some credit the district for “prudent” spending during the boom years and creating a rainy-day fund, the truth is that so much money poured in from the one-mill tax so fast, school officials could not spend it all.
It was clear from the reports given to the School Board when property values were going up more than 30% per year that there simply were not enough projects to spend the money on.
The district is spending about $19,000 per student this year. No reasonable person can argue that is not enough. Most would look at that and say it is more than enough. In these economic conditions, a lot more are finally willing to say so.
Rod Thomson is executive editor of the Gulf Coast Business Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STILL NOT GETTING IT?
The Republican Party establishment is now suspect everywhere among actual conservatives.
John McCain as a “moderate” presidential candidate was a complete flop, and that was predictable. Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and, to some degree, George W. Bush, win, while “moderates” such as Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and McCain lose.
Then there was the nauseating feeling conservatives had when the Republican establishment in upstate New York chose DeDe Scozzafava to run for an open seat before the “moderate” withdrew and endorsed the Democrat, shaming everyone involved.
It turns out that the Sarasota County arm of the party establishment can be just as blinkered.
The party, under the chairmanship of Joe Gruters, named Gov. Charlie Crist Statesman of the Year. Gruters said Crist will be a draw for the dinner, and the proceeds will go to help whoever is the Republican candidate.
But as has been well-documented on this page, Crist is not a conservative. And bestowing such an honor and conservative legitimacy just makes grassroot conservative Republicans pull their hair out and lose faith in the party.