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Public deserves input regarding proposed tax


September 18, 2019
Nobody likes taxes, and people especially resent new ones. We all want to hang on to as much of our money as we can. After all, we work hard to earn it.

The Crawford County Council broached the topic of a new tax last year. It failed spectacularly. At a public hearing last summer to gauge reaction to the idea of a public safety tax, not one — not a single one — of the more than 50 people in attendance spoke in favor. Ouch.

The council dropped the idea. But, it's now back, popping up as a line item in the 2020 budget. This was a surprise to most; there hasn't been much prior discussion about adding the tax this year.

The council will have a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 5 p.m. at the Judicial Complex in English. Among those who plan to be present is Marengo's Gary Robinson. He's definitely not in favor of the tax. One of his main concerns with next week's hearing is that the public really won't have much of an opportunity to speak.

"Working people won't be able to attend," he said. "They're denying working people the opportunity to speak because they are still at work."

He's certainly right about that.

With jobs lacking in Crawford County, I would say the majority of residents commute to work. If they get off at 5 and the hearing starts at 5, well, that leaves them with no opportunity to comment. That's not good. Boards should make every effort to accommodate the public, especially when they know it's a contentious issue. A 5 p.m. hearing, scheduled to last a half hour, does little to convince the public their input is wanted or valued.

This tax is based on your paycheck. As proposed, 0.9% of your weekly pay will go to fund public safety measures in the county, with a focus on maintaining paramedic service.

If there was ever a new tax I could be in favor of, this one is it.

When my family moved to Crawford County six years ago, I was shocked to learn the level of EMS training lagged so far behind most surrounding counties where paramedic service has been the standard for years. In a county as remote as this, it's even more important to have EMS providers trained to administer life-saving measures on the scene; paramedic service is vital. It absolutely will be the difference between life and death in some cases.

Last year, the council moved monies from other areas to fund paramedic service. That's most likely not sustainable. Given dwindling property tax revenues and a population that's in decline, a new tax may be inevitable.

Where the council failed most of all is not in proposing a public safety tax, but in their complete failure to sell it. Public discussion about this issue should have started in January, when the county first offered paramedic service. The opportunity was there to educate the public on what a difference this will make, to show them exactly how the money would be spent and what the funds saved in other areas would be used for. If people understand why a tax is needed, there's a chance they'll get on board.

The slightest appearance or hint of trying to pass a new tax without being completely transparent has the opposite effect. People become suspicious and trust disappears.

Public safety — the only measures the tax could be spent on — suffers as a result.

That should not happen.

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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