Saturday, January 10, 2004

Government moving glacially? Not close to this home

The past 4 years in this county have been very trying for those of us in the eastern, more populous side. The Board of Supervisors, the 9-member elected governing body of the county, had been elected in 1999 to deal with the issues created with the runaway development that was then in full swing. Those of us living in the east were concerned about the horrific traffic snarls, housing costs, and the loss of open space. The newly elected board understood the problem, we thought, and promised to do something about it.

They did: they passed laws and programs that increased the density in the eastern side of the county in order to protect the rural horse country to the west. They put such onerous requirements on new businesses that they made executives rethink moving into the county. Several moved out or had to close under the weight of the new regulations. They ran out a rather large budget surplus and turned it into a deficit, raised the property tax rate, increased fees, cut services, decried the fact that we don't have enough money coming in, and then spent $8 million buying development rights from private landowners out west on property that had no development value. They bought a $28,000 kitchen for a small business in a western district saying it would be available for public use. No such use has been, to date, permitted. When the $8 million ran out, they siphoned off $900,000 from the "hotel tax" (a tax on hotel stays that was tagged to go to the Office of Business Development) and used that to buy more development rights. At their very last meeting last month, they snagged another $1.3 million from the fund to buy some more.

At that same meeting, they also granted tax-exempt status to the one-and-only business they brought into the county in 4 years, costing the taxpayers $6 million annually, projected, permanently. Where is that business locating? In a western district, of course.

The 5 eastern districts comprise more than 70% of the county's population, but take up less than 40% of the square mileage. Under the previous board, we only had 4 districts, which meant 4 of the 9 members of the board were covering that 70% of the county's people. Oh, but it got worse: of the 4 "eastern" supervisors, only 1 consistently voted in a fashion consistent with the stated, surveyed desires of the eastern constituents. The others voted to cram in the people over here in their own districts, yet spend money out west. What about mine? He's the guy who proposed buying the $28,000 kitchen. And what value was that kitchen to his constituents here? None. We've never seen it, no one but the business owners have actually used it, and they aren't talking about their usage.

You can imagine that I got very involved with the elections last year. I am proud to say that the candidate I worked for not only won this district, he was then elected by the board to the Vice-Chairmanship. The Chairman is a county-wide elected spot and it went to the incumbent who made it is mission in life to pass all those laws I mentioned. He won by 0.01% of the vote. He, of course, is acting like he won by 100%, but you'd expect that. Of the 9 members that were in place last month, only 4 are there today. What had been a case of seeing votes pass 8-1, 8-1, 8-1 with the sole voice on the Board speaking on behalf of Eastern interests being consistently crushed has suddenly become 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 with the former board members on the short end of the stick. Except the 1, of course. In the 1st meeting of the new board, there were 22 motions brought, debated, and voted upon, more than the previous board did in 6 months. Quite a number of them were redressing inequities.

The development rights program has been suspended. It's not necessarily a bad program, but we need to pay for other things first. Now we will. Construction into the center of the county, which had been completely opposed by the previous board, will be allowed now. One of the motions was to withdraw a restriction passed by the previous board that you weren't allowed to build a ballpark in a floodplain. A ballpark? The previous board said they would not approve building something that might just get flooded. It's a ballpark! What's the cleanup on that going to be? Paint some new lines, rake the sand and the field and you're done. We have literally hundreds of kids here who want to play in summer soccer and baseball leagues but can't because we've got no place for them to play. I've seen little league games being held in driving rainstorms because if you let weather cancel a game, there's no place open to reschedule. All year. We need these facilities and we can afford to risk that they'll get wet once in a while.

As soon as the local paper gets the story up on their website, I'll link to it. All in all, it's looking fairly good. I have sent in a note with both a "welcome" and a warning to my Supervisor, the new Vice Chairman. I've asked that he not get too brutal in his treatment of the former majority Supervisors. They certainly need to understand that it's not business as usual and that they need to get used to compromising on issues where for the past 4 years they've passed what they wanted and opposition be damned. It's not necessary to pound them into the ground, however. So far, they're being professional, which is already an improvement. Should be an interesting 4 years....