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June 23, 2021

Free Lance Editorial: Public sector trying to squeeze every dime from taxpayers

A common theme has multiplied like Gremlins among public leaders who are faced with fiscal challenges: Roll the dice and cross your fingers.

That was the case once again last week when county supervisors and staff officials broached the idea to create a ballot measure requesting a new tax district that would generate money for parks, the library and potentially other services. While they’re at it, they might as well add public works, law enforcement, the planning department, graffiti cleanup, pensions, the annual holiday party and coffee service to the list.

Their proposed solution is to feed an addiction for deficit spending by trying to convince a relatively impoverished electorate – the Associated Press last year ranked San Benito as the fourth-most economically stressed county in the entire nation – to pay more money into the public sector.

It is the most convenient of all answers for struggling government entities these days: Put another tax on the ballot, plea for the taxpayers’ support and count on a union-centric electorate voting through these irresponsible, poorly timed measures.

In the past 18 months alone, there has been the Hollister School District’s ballot proposal for a $96 parcel tax, the Aromas-San Juan school district’s passage of a bond measure, renewed talk of an extension to the Measure T sales tax in Hollister, the push for a new property and business improvement district in downtown Hollister, the San Benito High School District’s movement toward asking voters to support a bond for expansion, and now the county’s examination of a tax district to support parks and the library.

For the local taxpayers, this would add to still paying off a $32 million bond for hospital construction and $75 million in Hollister redevelopment debt, along with those ungodly sewer bills spurred by the need to build a $100 million wastewater plant. 

It looks as though government leaders around here have simply given up on their fiduciary duties, and creative will, and want the voters to make difficult decisions for them.

This is one of the most enduring problems with San Benito County’s fragmented leadership among dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations maintaining a wide contrast of self-interests. Now it appears that every official within local government ranks has come to the same, bright conclusion – it is time to bombard the voters with emotion-laced requests for more money before their competitors get the same idea and beat them to the punch.

What we are seeing, and what we are certain to hear as these proposals progress or die, is that citizens do in fact want a modernized library, more computers in schools, a second high school campus, better parks, better roads and everything else that makes for enhanced quality of life.

The question should not be what we all desire as a community. There is one question that really matters, especially in these times: What can we afford?

With the latest proposal for a community services district to fund parks, the library and possibly other services, elected leaders and staff officials are treating the symptoms, shrinking revenues, instead of addressing the problems head on – doing more to spur economic growth in the private sector and taking bolder steps toward compensation reform for public employees.

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