Opinion by John Gutekunst
A few years ago, the Town of Parker began a practice that continues today. For Elks Youth Day, the Parker High seniors who served as the “Town Council” were given an exercise. They were given a list of streets that needed work done, as well as estimates of how much that work would cost. They were then told how much money they had, which, of course, was not close to what was needed to do all the streets. The students were asked to prioritize which streets would get the work, based on the need and the money available.
The point of this was to make the students work together to get a job done. It also showed them the sorts of decisions public officials must make, as well as the frustrations of being in public office.
Let’s face it: being a public official can be very rewarding. It can also be incredibly frustrating.
The frustrations could be seen in the budget work sessions held by the La Paz County Supervisors last week. At the two sessions I attended, the one for the Sheriff’s Office and the County Assessor, it was clear Sheriff Bill Risen and Assessor Anna Camacho are frustrated. They’ve been elected to do a job, and they feel they’re not being given the resources to adequately do that job.
The Board of Supervisors, D.L. Wilson, Duce Minor, and Holly Irwin, are also frustrated. They can see all the needs the county has. They can also see there’s only so much money. They know there isn’t enough money to provide county services at the level that they should be. They can’t give department heads like Risen and Camacho the resources they need because they don’t have the resources to give them.
This has been a problem ever since the county was founded. With only 5 percent of the land in private hands, La Paz County does not have the tax base needed to provide services at the level they need to be provided at. That was one of the arguments against forming La Paz County from northern Yuma County.
I’m reminded of an old song that had this in its chorus:
There ain’t no good guy,
There ain’t no bad guy.
There’s just you and me,
And we just disagree.
Despite what some people think, the county can’t just go raising taxes willy-nilly. There is a process and a state-mandated formula they have to follow. They are limited as to how much, if at all, they can raise the tax rate every year.
Some may be asking about that increase in the county’s spending limit approved by voters last year. That has nothing to do with the tax rate. They can’t legally spend that much money unless they actually have the money to spend. They can’t legally increase the tax rate to bring in enough revenue to reach the spending limit.
What to do? It seems to me the department heads need to accept less than they want and learn to make do with what they have. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t fight for what they need. However, they need to choose their fights wisely.
The county may not be able to give the Sheriff’s Office all the pay increases they’re asking for, but perhaps they can give them a smaller increase that will help lower the turnover. The cost of the pay increase could be offset by savings on training new employees.
The Assessor’s Office has asked to use an aerial photography service to help locate “escaped” properties. If the example of Mohave County is any indication, Camacho is right when she said the service could pay for itself in increased county revenues.
Beyond that, the county needs to work towards having more public lands made available for development, and growing the tax base through economic development.
An elected official said to me that a lot of people seem to think elected officials are given a magic wand. They just wave the magic wand and everything is made perfect. He said he’s still waiting for his magic wand.
Making our county prosperous won’t take magic. It will take a lot of work. It’s time we got started.