“Let them eat cake.” The famous and historical words of Marie-Antoinette (bride of France’s King Louis XVI) came to mind when I listened to a recent Board of Supervisors’ comments at the Aug. 21 meeting. Several constituents asked not to close the Golden Valley library. They had this response: “It’s only 13 miles to Kingman.”
My first instinct was this statement was beyond callous and insensitive. I would hope elected officials would be far more compassionate to the needs of their constituents. Upon further reflection, these six words revealed some significant leadership issues within the BOS.
As a former elected official, I always appreciate when government officials look to being efficient (doing things right). To find waste and duplicate services is the right action to take, especially when there is a budget shortfall. However, what is efficient is not always effective and doing the right thing.
Currently the U.S., the State of Arizona and Mohave County have significant literacy issues. According to U.S. Dept. of Education and the National Institute for Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That translates into 14 percent of the population. When we examine reading ability, 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a fifth-grade level and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read. This inability to read is a trend that continues to increase each year by about 2.25 million individuals.
Low literacy rates are expensive to our society. The National Right to Read Organization’s research has revealed 90 percent of welfare recipients are high school drop outs. Other research from NRRF suggested low literacy rates add $73 million per year in terms of health care costs. This research also has shown 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have been rated as functionally or marginally illiterate.
Additionally, the income level of Mohave County citizens is also below the state and national averages. The medium household income for Mohave County is $38,488 with a per capita income of $20,974. Arizona has a medium income level of $51,492 and a per capita income level of $26,721. Both are lower than the U.S. medium income level of $55,775 and $29,979 per capita income.
The U.S. Census Bureau suggests 19.8 percent of Mohave County individuals are below the poverty level. Nationally, the poverty rate is 14.8 percent as of 2014.
When we look to population growth according to the U.S. Census projections, Mohave County has increased by 2.5 percent from 2010 to 2016. Yet the estimated growth by those 65 or older has outpaced the general population. In 2010, senior citizens represented 20.6 percent of residents. Currently the estimate of this demographic is at 28.6 percent of the population.
What this data tells us is many citizens of Mohave County have limited resources. To ask cash strapped citizens who continue to face higher costs from county fees to sales taxes to property taxes only adds insult to injury.
In Golden Valley, students use the free Wi-Fi from the library to complete their homework. Their parents may not have the disposable income for Wi-Fi or internet service. Also buying gas for a 26- to 30-mile roundtrip each weekday evening could further constrain already limited budgets.
Finally, safety of all citizens should be a prime concern of the Board of Supervisors. The 13 miles between Golden Valley and Kingman is via two state highways and one Interstate highway.
A news story from this paper on Jan. 27 revealed traffic fatalities in this county are climbing at 10 percent to 15 percent annually. In the last 10 years of the 515 traffic fatalities, 40 happened on Highway 68 between Golden Valley and Bullhead City with 62 on Interstate 40.
For any elected official to intentionally place their constituents in dangerous situations, especially young high school students and senior citizens, is extremely questionable. If the goal is to save money, then possibly the BOS should look to the number of vehicles driven by county employees, the free gas provided by the county or the cellphones assigned to county employees?
Wasted tax dollars have been documented from a second ice machine at Development Services, spending HURF money on a new public works building and not to mention the 5 percent salary increase for “hot jobs.” According to State Rep. Regina Cobb, Mohave County received more dollars this year than in the last 10 years. These dollars included $30 million in HURF, $8 million for juvenile detention and $1.5 million for indigent defense and $550,000 from the lottery. (Source: Kingman Daily Miner)
To use the rural (noncity) libraries as a scapegoat for the budget shortfall given all these facts reveals serious leadership issues within this board. We really shouldn’t be surprised when we hear “It’s only 13 miles to Kingman” instead of hearing and seeing real leadership. Maybe we should have some Board of Supervisors eating ice instead of cake.