Column: Kingman needs strong leaders with vision
11/20/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
Elected officials are no different than most of us. They want people to like them for who they are and respect them for what they stand for.
In good times, when builders are building, sellers are selling and buyers are buying, it's easy for politicians to do and say the things that please most residents.
New roads are built and old roads are maintained. Fire stations are constructed and staffed.
Police and paramedics come to your home in your hour of need.
Parks open. Trash gets hauled away. Water flows in and sewage flows out.
In the good years, life is good, like a 1950s black-and-white TV sitcom featuring a perfect husband and wife and goofy but lovable kids named Wally and the Beaver.
But when times are bad - and let's face it, they've been bad for more than five years - life is more like a modern-day reality TV show. It sucks.
In the good years, elected officials don't have to be brave, visionary or even possess especially strong leadership skills.
When times are bad, those are the only qualities that matter.
So as the year 2013 nears its end without any local signs the Great Recession is ready to end with it, citizens look for leaders who know how to lead with courage and strong character.
Mayor Janet Watson and her colleagues on the City Council understand better than most just how deep a hole Kingman is in.
They know the deficit spending that has occurred since 2008 has just about run its course and the time for hard decisions is now.
They understand with absolute certainty that one of two things will happen in the coming months - and they are as different as night and day.
Either a new, stable and vigorous revenue source is identified and tapped, or services will be cut to the bone.
As things stand now, it costs the city more to provide police and fire protection to Kingman's citizens than the city takes in through the sales tax, the only local funding source for a community of nearly 30,000 people.
State lawmakers have looted cities across Arizona in order to balance their own budget, leaving places such as Kingman bereft of once-dependable revenue sources. Gas taxes. Lottery money. Those streams have dried up like Rattlesnake Wash.
Watson and the Council know they can't increase the sales tax. That rope is pulled tighter than a fat man wearing a thin man's pants. People are already prepared to drive to Bullhead City or Las Vegas to shop. And yes, they will make a 200-mile round trip to save a buck or two.
Watson and the City Council know they can't really run government like a business, no matter how many times a certain segment of the community demands they do so.
Let me walk that back a bit: Government can be run like a business if government charged a family of four $50 to enjoy one of the parks for an hour or two. More, if they intend to use the picnic areas and grills, the basketball or tennis courts, the skate park, the ball fields or the playground.
It costs money to mow that grass and keep it green, to install and maintain sprinkler systems and pick up the trash the less civic-minded in our community leave behind.
So, if you want government to be run like a business, expect to dig deep every time you want a government service. It's not personal. It's just business.
Let's not over-simplify the problem with over-simplistic solutions.
This leads us to the point of today's column: What should the City Council do to raise revenues? How should the city diversify its revenue stream, which is dangerously one-dimensional and highly unpredictable?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but I do know now is not the time to take anything off the table.
A primary property tax exists in almost every city in America except for Kingman. It's a shame the current City Council and the people they represent are suffering because of a wholly irresponsible and shortsighted Council that existed 33 years ago.
That Council, for pure political gain, did away with the local property tax.
Bringing back the tax wouldn't solve all of the city's problems, but it would pay for the Kingman Fire Department, and that's saying something.
So what is needed are leaders who are brave, visionary and willing to take an unpopular stand when they know there is no other option.
Because in bad times, like now, strength and vision and leadership are the only qualities that matter.