“We have no money to _____.” This has been an all-too-familiar theme from our public bodies for the past several years. In fact, this theme has been repeated as recently as this week at the Minden City Council and the Webster Parish School Board.
At the council, Minden Police Officer Chris Hammontree politely asked the status on raises for the Minden Police Department. He asked about options that were discussed at a workshop nearly two months ago.
At almost exactly the same time, the Webster Parish School Board was passing legislation to freeze teacher pay again.
Meanwhile, the Webster Parish Police Jury is in desperate need for a tax renewal to maintain roads in some of the most rural parts of the parish.
With the State of Louisiana in similar straits, money from Baton Rouge is being slowed or cut out altogether, yet there are still mandates for all three entities mentioned above.
We get it. Everyone is broke or almost broke. So what is the solution?
Anyone who has ever done a personal or business budget knows that when things are out of balance, you must raise revenues, cut expenses, or both. Generally, expenses are cut first while a solution for revenue is found.
We have been in the “cutting” phase for a while now. The problem with government programs and services is no one wants theirs cut. Arguments can be made to keep this and that, but you simply can’t keep everything. In addition, there is not possible to cut your way to prosperity. It is simply a survival or corrective tool, which brings us to the revenue side of the ledger.
In Minden, sales taxes are already too high, which can be a hindrance to economic development. Property taxes are not unreasonable, but no one wants to pay more. Other options exist, but you cannot tax your way into prosperity either.
There is another possibility, but it isn’t easy. It doesn’t help much in the short term. It does, however provide the much-needed revenue to accomplish what is needed in our community. That option is sustained population growth of “producers.” If Minden and Webster Parish would grow in population of those who pay property taxes, the revenues could go up without anyone paying any additional tax.
Property taxes are paid by individuals and businesses alike, so it is one of the most fair ways to raise revenue — especially in our current situation.
However, this will not be easy. People (and businesses) won’t just move here because we want them. There has to be plenty of positive reasons for people to choose our community.
The catch-22 is that improvements must be made, but there is a lack of resources and motivation to do so. Our police are struggling, our schools are struggling, our infrastructure is struggling. Therefore, the question to be asked is, ‘Who is willing to sacrifice in the short term for long-term gains?”
Some may have to put aside their personal or political preferences to make this happen, and have the intestinal fortitude to stay the course. Some may have to pay more. Some may have to expect less. Again, this isn’t easy. The specifics of what should/could be done are too numerous for a newspaper column.
However, it doesn’t take much research to see the most pressing needs and biggest obstacles to sustained population growth.
We need some folks to move back to our community, and bring others with them. We need businesses to move to our community and bring jobs with them. And, we need all to pay their fair share.
If we could really get behind such an effort over the long term, our children and grandchildren would have a much better community in which to live, work, and play.
To me, that makes it all worthwhile.
David Specht is president of Specht Newspapers, Inc. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.