Not always right, but
That’s My Opinion
By Bob Robinson
“If you want something locally, be prepared to pay for it locally.”
Or something like that. I read it a while back in a report about Gov.
Hey! That’s great. That’s the way it should be. Get back to local
control, local funding, and taxpayers having a voice in how our local
governments should run and whether or not we want to pay for it.
The next step is if you ain’t gonna pay for it, then don’t “mandate”
it. State and federal governments have been passing unfunded mandates
for years… it’s time to bring them to a screeching halt.
The latest “bells & whistles” that Columbus is mandating is
something called “Next Gen.” It takes us into the 21st Century with our
911 Emergency System. Fiber optics. Text messaging. Cell phone photos.
GPS. A whole bunch of neat stuff, much of which I don’t do and probably
never will. But the generations behind me do.
Is it important in a time when budgets (and manpower) are tight? You
bet. It will save money through efficiency and provide a better service
to taxpayers. And it falls in line with government’s Constitutional
mandate to provide for the public safety.
But here’s where it gets sticky. Columbus is requiring it by the end of
the year, yet Columbus is likely to take away our source of funding for
it. And Next Gen is going to cost between $500 and $600 thousand
That’s only part of the story. The Darke County Jail is in desperate
need of repair and upgrades. I’d been hearing about it for years, but
Darke County Commissioner Mike Stegall brought it home at a Greenville
Kiwanis meeting Wednesday.
Since Columbus has decided to do spring house cleaning in its prisons,
many of the bad guys we used to send elsewhere get to stay right here,
a guest of the County. We have to be able to handle it.
The Commissioners are putting out feelers for a .25 percent 4-year
renewable sales tax increase, with Mike as their “Point Man” – the guy
they appointed to make the ‘sale’ for them. He says it will pay for
“Next Gen,” future upgrades and fixing the jail.
The previous Wednesday, Mike was scheduled to speak at the meeting, but
evidently signals got crossed. He didn’t realize it and wasn’t
prepared. However, we got a preview with a request to the media to hold
off reporting on it until the following week. We did.
After the meeting, though, Mike asked me what I thought. You know me. I
told him it would be a tough sell. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I
also noted that the voters had elected him on a “no new taxes”
platform. He pushed for – and voted for – the increased conveyance fee,
and now he will be asking the voters to support another tax increase.
He acknowledged that, but said the Conveyance Fee has been a tremendous
asset to our economic development plan. I responded that ED was already
successful… the money helps, but it has been the combined efforts of
the Darke County communities and the office’s director that built the
This week was different. I can’t remember who approached who, but
evidently I got under Mike’s skin and, consequently, he got under mine
with an “in your face” attitude in our “discussion.”
My approach always has been – and always will be – that the more
government stays out of our lives and limits its ‘power’ to narrowly
defined public safety and welfare – yes, like roads and highways, Mike
– the better off we all will be. While a Conveyance Fee might be
achieving results, it is fundamentally wrong for government to take
from a select few for a generously defined “public good” without the
approval of the public.
One of your own fellow Commissioners acknowledged two years ago that
Economic Development was NOT the job of government. And that
includes taxing the public to fund it. What IS the job of government is to make it easier for entrepreneurship and growth by
getting the hell out of the way.
I’ll never be a good debater. I didn't think of those points
during our “discussion” simply because I have to think
before opening my mouth. It wouldn’t have done any good anyway. Mike
was already out the door with the words “look it up… you’ll see that
I’m right” echoing down the hallway.
Until all of our public officials learn that discussion and
disagreement is part of the democratic process, I guess local citizens
will continue to be entertained by public fireworks. At least from one
of our public officials.
One of the points that Mike stressed repeatedly during his presentation
was Darke County Auditor Carol Ginn’s endorsement of the job local
elected officials were doing. So I stopped by to see her. She was tied
up but called me back later.
She said that if this had to be done, new revenue is the only way it
was possible. The county is operating as efficiently as it can, even to
the point of sharing resources when one department was in a crunch and
another one was able to help.
I have tremendous respect for Carol. If she tells me there is no other
way this can be funded, I accept it. I also believe that with the
direction our society is going, we must keep up with – actually, ahead
of – the bad guys and other areas of public safety.
So, with apologies to those who supported my “no new taxes” stance in
my campaign for Commissioner two years ago, I have to tell you,
regretfully, that I lied. I found a tax that I have to support.
I am publicly endorsing the idea of a renewable .25 percent sales tax
increase. I don’t believe we have a choice.
It requires a vote. It is limited to four years, after which a new vote
of the people is required. It is a tax everyone has to pay and will not
be dumped on a selected segment of the population. And it is the least
intrusive tax that I can imagine. Currently, we pay $10.70 on a
ten-dollar taxable purchase. With the new tax we would pay $10.73.
One thing bothers me. Commissioners are trying to sell this as
something that will “sunset” in four years. We the taxpayers have been
beaten up by that statement so many times we no longer believe it. Same
ol’ BS. Many voters will simply “turn off.” There is no such a thing as
a tax that goes away.
I made the suggestion to Mike that he might want to reconsider his
approach. Even if you believe it will go away, don’t expect the voters
to believe it. Acknowledge the likelihood that it may have to be
At the very least, make sure that voters truly understand that if you
want it to continue, they – not you – make the decision. Mike mentioned
this a few times, but the emphasis was that it would be “retired” in
four years. I got the impression Mike wasn’t really impressed with my
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I think Mike – along with the
two other Commissioners - is doing a good job. As are all local elected
county officials. He does his research and, even though I have
disagreed with him, has typically had a conservative approach to his
responsibilities. He is part of a team that has kept Darke County one
of the most fiscally responsible counties in the state.
It is how he deals with people that bothers me.
I knew someone once who said, “I may not always be right… but I’m never
wrong.” Mike hasn’t said it, but his attitude and approach to people
typically says it for him. I’m not the only one who has observed – and
bothered by – it.
To all public officials, remember who your bosses are. Remember that
you serve at the pleasure of the people and sometimes voters have long
memories… especially if they are unfavorable ones.
Remembering that might even help you get a new tax passed.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?
To see the story, Commissioners considering sale tax for 911 Service,