We are living in a social pressure cooker. The myriad stresses of COVID-19 coupled with a reckoning of the untold injustices done to minority groups over our nation’s existence is at a peak.
We are a nation divided.
Things seemed to have been at a pinnacle even before the pandemic began. While we wondered back in January who would be sitting in the Oval Office a year from then, few could have predicted how badly our country — and our world — would be wracked by unforeseen forces waiting on the doorstep.
As for the pandemic, its impacts are far from clear. Millions have been infected, hundreds of thousands have died, we have no vaccine, and our economy is in a deep recession. Many of us feel pent up and frustrated. Some don’t know how they will ever recover. Most can’t fathom how our debt-burdened country can be propped up in an effort to make us an economically viable civilization.
The answer is easy for some: take from the rich and give to the poor. The problem with that is that some tax-generating businesses that were once profitable have now folded or are on the brink of closing. The incentives for staying in business won’t be great if entrepreneurs are taxed to death.
Here in our town, both at city hall and the county courthouse, our money woes were irresponsibly out of whack way back when the private sector was in fat city.
For many residents, it’s difficult to swallow the duplicity that occurs for similar services at the city and county offices. Many residents and visitors are served by both bodies of government. There are redundancies for sure, and as taxpayers, we have long wondered why efficiencies have not been made.
Take law enforcement, for example. We have policing bodies on the local, state and federal levels. On the most local level, it is the Moab Police Department. Overlapping that in a broader fashion is the Grand County Sheriff’s Department. The state has the Utah Highway Patrol, and there are a few officers who provide public safety services at our state parks and for our natural resources, the river and wildlife departments. Then there are rangers (probably not enough) that cover the vast acreages overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. And, of course, there are rangers in our national parks.
Lots of people are doing similar things with similar budgets, pulling from many money pots funded by taxes.
The recent conflagration of the Black Lives Matter movement and its focus on police brutality has brought up the question of defunding law enforcement. Mayors and administrators all over the country are mulling that question.
Here in the Moab Valley, on and off over the decades, some folks have proposed the consolidation of the police department and sheriff’s office to make a blend that would serve the entire county without two different administrative bodies and staffs. Of course there are turf issues between the county and city that have prevented that, but there could be savings and efficiencies and clarity under an umbrella. As it exists now, it’s like having two different schools districts in one town.
An epoch of mismanagement at city hall has left taxpayers stuck with the bill. A shady city manager stepped in toward the end of a longtime mayoral reign. Then legal bills and questions occurred, many of which are still not answered. Then we got an interim city manager who expanded the city staff and implemented raises, recruited folks from the lesser-paid county staff, and in some cases created new positions
There is so much economic strife in our authoritative bodies that it causes most people to develop resentment and fear. The pandemic hasn’t helped. Due to the coronavirus, elected officials are now on their fourth month of operating behind cameras instead of in public. There is no public soapbox from which citizens can stand up and be heard. “It’s so much easier to get things done when there are no public hearings,” said a retired public servant to one of our reporters recently.
Case in point: the new bike park. This project, at least a year in the making, seems to have crept up without sufficient dialogue. Some members of the public are now questioning its location and expense. But at this juncture, the city has decided to not have a public hearing for it. What’s more, the city manager has the authority to spend up to $50,000 on projects without anyone else’s permission.
Questioning authority matters. People need to redouble their efforts to stay informed, which is difficult to do under the mask of a pandemic. Our local government officials need to give back their raises, and they need to cut their budgets even more.
We are in for a long ride. Here at The Times-Independent we will do our best to tell folks where their tax dollars are being spent. We will try to give voice to those who don’t have a soapbox.