The Flash and the Empire-Tribune have each run an important article describing the city administrator’s invitation to residents to attend town hall meetings and complete a survey on prospective capital improvements. You can see the articles at https://theflashtoday.com/2016/06/03/residents-will-be-asked-for-input-into-citys-capital-improvement-program/ and http://www.yourstephenvilletx.com/news/20160603/city-invites-citizen-input-on-capital-improvement-program.
If the city council still operates as it did when I was on it, than these fact-finding activities will be among the first of many to be conducted throughout the summer as the council engages in two of its most important and time-consuming activities: Determining the city budget and setting the property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.
The city administrator’s effort is praiseworthy on at least two counts:
• First, he’s taking the initiative to encourage the citizens to become more actively involved in the city budget process.
• Second, he’s encouraging the citizens to think not only about what they want, but what they DON’T want as well.
Unfortunately, official requests for citizen input are neither new nor especially successful. Every summer in which I served on the council and worked on the budget, citizens had ample chances to attend and participate in our work sessions. Few took advantage of their opportunities until the end of the summer when the budget was finalized for adoption. Only then would many attend council sessions to voice opinions on matters which had been basically settled in work sessions, and which could not be adequately revisited without disrupting the legally-mandated budgetary process. The current administrator is to be commended for encouraging early participation in the process this year, and must be held blameless if his invitation fails to elicit the participation it should.
More noteworthy is the opportunity afforded by the administrator’s survey for citizens to say not only what they want, but what they don’t want. As I’ve written before, the public is frequently more likely to suggest new spending programs, as well as new tax cuts, rather than to consider cuts in existing programs as a means of either supplying money for new programs or justifying tax cuts. My personal theory is that the public has been persuaded, if not brainwashed, by Democratic and Republican “leaders” who constantly yammer about the need for “middle class tax cuts” without mentioning the need for program cuts to pay for the tax cuts. The Democrats talk about taxing “the rich” more, while the Republicans say either that tax cuts will pay for themselves with increased growth of the economy and the tax revenue to be derived therefrom, or that more money can be borrowed, to be repaid by future generations. The degree to which both sides can be irrational, delusional, or outright dishonest is truly astonishing. Our administrator is to be commended for structuring his survey to remind the citizens that in Stephenville, at least, reality, as well as wishes, must be considered.
So, I hope everyone will not only accept the administrator’s invitation to get involved in his proposed discussion of capital programs and expenditures, but to participate in future work sessions devoted to the city’s other programs and how to pay for them. And in doing so, everyone should remember the time to participate is AS SOON AS POSSIBLE – not at the last moment. Also, one must think not only of what one wants, but what one is willing to GIVE UP to keep the tax rate rational. I’ve defined myself before as a small-government, free-market, balance budget conservative, but I also think that in a democratic society—as Stephenville should be—the public is entitled to whatever programs and services it wants as long as they’re legal—and as long as the public is willing to PAY for them.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.