By Joseph Bell - Record Editor –
In an effort to avoid raising taxes for the first time in roughly a decade, members of the Ridgway Borough Council on Monday were pondering ways to cut spending and curbside recycling found its way to the chopping block.
Not a smart move.
While no official decisions were made during the Monday night meeting on either raising taxes or cutting curbside recycling, the writing is on the wall: Extensive cuts are needed to balance the budget, and even that might not be enough to avoid a tax hike.
Despite this, the real issue at hand is not even the pros and cons of cutting such an environmentally responsible service but rather it is the stigma of raising taxes.
Just inflation alone might be more than enough to justify a tax increase. In 2003, $1 had the same buying power as $1.27 today based off the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the United States Department of Labor. Meanwhile, funding from the state and federal governments seems to be shrinking on a yearly basis.
But the stigma of raising taxes is a tough obstacle to overcome, a reputation for which we are all responsible.
For far too long the notion has been "If they [government officials] vote to raise taxes, let's vote them out in the next election." Sometimes they're ousted; more often they are not. But this has been the battle cry in the everlasting war between taxpayers and the government from borough council all the way up to the federal level: "Don't raise taxes."
On one hand, maybe curbside recycling is not important; it must not be too significant to some people situated in influential seats since there is the distinct possibility of it being axed into a memory.
On the other hand, just keep kicking the can down the road; one year it's cutting curbside recycling, the next year maybe it's a vital piece of firefighting equipment or a reliable police vehicle that is slashed from the budget, all to the battle cry of "Don't raise taxes."
That's not to say our current elected officials and councils of the past have not performed admirably. On the surface, not raising taxes is a good thing but down the road, shortsightedness is going to cost the taxpayers.
In the end, it's all a sham and a shame.
Just the demographics alone for the borough seem to suggest that changes somewhere along the line need to be made.
The 2000 census totaled nearly 4,600 people residing in the borough with 1,927 households and 1,233 families living in the borough.
In 2010, census figures showed the population had declined to 4,078 people, 1,783 households, and 1,073 families residing in the borough.
Whether these figures are grounds for a tax increase is a winless debate. Maybe an argument may be made that since there are less people now than a dozen or so years ago, quite possibly the borough actually needs less tax revenue. Again, inflation alone would beg to differ.
Less taxpayers means less tax money which means either raise taxes or cut programs. Maybe our streets department is too large? Maybe we have too many part-time police officers? But when you're talking about a person's job-- their livelihood-- that's a difficult thing to put on an already rickety balance scale. Even then, unemployment throughout our nation is already a huge problem.
Yet a tax increase would seem to enable our local government to ensure that services to the citizens will still be readily available; our local fire department and police force are obviously necessary expenditures and local roads must also be maintained. If you want to talk about things that are unnecessary, don't push curbside recycling to the forefront; remove the faulty parking meters instead.
A tax increase of even one mill will lower the disposable income of citizens, whether it's $50 less a year for the average borough homeowner or even more. Quite possibly an increase will hurt the already dwindling downtown storefront and the local economy as a whole. Cutting curbside recycling also would be another step back for the borough, a town already ravaged by a rusty revolving door of businesses, and Ridgway is not alone in these struggles, not by a long shot.
Are we comfortable now? Whether services are cut or taxes are increased, our level of contentment will more than likely decrease.
The citizens are going to be damned no matter what.
Joseph Bell is the editor of The Ridgway Record. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .