Cookeville fleas and the budget crisis

By GEOFF DAVIDIAN

Putnam Pit editor

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (July 12,2003) -- As the Cookeville City Council prepares to vote Thursday on a whopping property tax increase, I feel the need to take the lead in my own household and set my own budget priorities to see where I can cut my own fat. Man, it is tough when crisis is everywhere.

 

For example, my veterinarian wants me to upgrade from the $16-a-month itch repellant drops to the $17-a-month product that will protect my dog not only from those pesky fleas but also from mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

 

I donít want my dog to die, do I? After all, if I already pay $16 a month to keep the boy flea- and itch-free, why not an extra dollar to keep him alive? But I let the canine run free at a dog park in the woods, where he is more likely to pick up fleas, ticks and mosquitoes than if I kept him home. So I feel I must protect him.

 

This is my problem, but I could easily make it my dogís problem by simply cutting back on his food to retain money needed to pay for the medicine he needs to protect him from the danger I place him in by letting him run wild.

 

Likewise, my family already pays property taxes. Why not add a few cents to provide a really important service we canít live without although the behavior of the government puts us at unnecessary risk?

 

No question that life-and-death emergencies arise and they must be addressed.

 

Indeed, a dollar a month is a reasonable investment to keep my $600 dog alive. The question I am wrestling with is this: Why does it cost just a dollar a month to keep my dog free from West Nile Virus but $16 to keep the fleas away? I can wash my dog myself and save the $16, but swatting disease-carrying mosquitoes away is beyond my ability.

 

When there is plenty of money, Iíll pay for flea treatment. When times are tough, I wash the dog myself.

 

By the same token, why do the essential services Cookeville cannot live without cost only pennies in taxes when property owners are paying tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars on insignificant or discretionary items?

 

After all, government is the institution that does the stuff we need someone else to do Ė like maintain the roadways and keep order; bring law to bear on chaos and keep dangerous psychos off the streets.

 

What are essential municipal services? Public safety and public works would be two. Garbage collection, clean water and sewage would be others.

 

For public officials like, say, Mayor Charles Womack or Councilman Sam Salle, who have a responsibility to serve the public by virtue of their offices, the question is: when serious problems arise, how can they exert leadership over a corrupt, tired and incompetent government apparatus to increase production, cut waste and reduce cost? Isnít that why we elect a governing body?

 

If they are not doing this, why are they in government? For the perks?

 

There are so many ways to save money that would avert a tax increase:

  • Hire a full-time city attorney and follow that attorneyís advice;
  • Donít let the city attorney collect fees to defend against suits brought in response to that attorneyís advice;
  • Train employees on fundamental issues like civil rights and public records so that they donít have to refer every question to the city attorney;
  • Require the city attorney to take courses designed to avoid lawsuits against the municipality;
  • Demand a minimum standard of performance for city employees and stop covering for their shortcomings; government employment should be seen as public service, not privileged position;
  • Sell municipally owned vehicles used by public employees when they are not working, and make city employees who have city-owned vehicles when they are not working pay their own insurance;
  • Collect legal fees from employees defended at city expense who lose at trial;
  • Stop annexing land you canít provide services to just so you can tax it;
  • Replace the police chief with a qualified, progressive professional.