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Posted: Thursday, April 28th 2011 at 4:52pm

Tough Decisions Are Not Always Equitable

By Stan Hall Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
If there is still anybody out there who wonders if we are having tough economic times; I am shocked. I will say that after a trip to the mall last week, there seemed to be a whole lot of people who were spending a whole lot of money. All of the restaurants in the area seemed to be full and life as we used to know it seemed to be back in full stride. Maybe it’s just me who doubts that the recession is over. I am one of those old schoolers who deem the solidity of my economic status based on how much money I have on hand. Call me old fashion.

I suspect that there are many more like me despite my earlier observations. I think that not only are we still in the midst of the recession; we may be a year or so from recovery. Unemployment rates have remained steady or with little fluctuation over the past couple of years. This is true not only in the private sector but in the public sector as well. Declining tax digests are causing the public sector to do what has already been done on the private side concerning employment freezes, no annual raises, and furlough days. Despite what some may say, the public sector has been doing this for a while. But, with the flat-line economy in place, local governments have been forced to make tough decisions as it applies to service delivery. What is the formula that must be used as it relates to those services that are quality of life issues and those services that are foundational to the mandate of governmental entities?

Most governments are trying to adopt policies that are equitable, across the board, concerning employees despite their job classification. In suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County, the emotions ran high recently with talks of shutting down libraries to hold cost. After a huge turn out by library supporters, the idea was nixed and instead government leaders cut services across the board that included police and fire as well. I would submit that we are entering a slippery slope when we begin to justify that those libraries, parks, and other “comfort” amenities that we have all grown accustomed, are of equal importance to the overall rudimentary safety of our families and homes. I love our libraries and parks. I live in a county where they are routinely recognized as being some of the best in the nation. But when the “you know what” hits the fan, I’m not sure that there is a librarian, life guard, or athletic director who will be able to help me. I do know that a police officer or a fire fighter would be a welcomed sight. However, we continue to try and preserve a buffet style of government services when we should be ensuring that the nutritional staples are taken care of first. Hor-devours, desserts and coffee are great, but they should only be served secondary to the meat, potatoes, and vegetables that we need to survive.

While I have never heard one person who will dispute this argument, they continue to stand by and watch our public safety capabilities erode if it means closing a library or park. Furloughing a police officer, to keep from staggering days at the library, makes no sense at all. If the parks aren’t safe, no matter how much we like them, we will have some of the nicest and emptiest parks in the area. If people attending the libraries don’t feel safe, we will have wonderful libraries with great books and computers just waiting, but never used. While the awards are something that we should all be so proud of, what good are they if no one but thugs ever see them?

When this economy turns around, and economic forecasters tell us that it will eventually do just that, we can start spending money again on all of those government programs that are non essential to basic service delivery requirements. I’ll be the first one down the waterslide. But until then, we have to come to grips with what government is really in place to do. We have to have public safety. We have to have roads and water. We have to have courts and jails. We have to have constitutionally mandated entities in place that allow government to do its core job. Unfortunately, everything else falls below that standard. Unfortunate, but indeed true.

It would be great if we could continue to do everything that we have been doing without worrying about equity, budgets, priorities, and our basic safety. It would also be great if we had a rainbow with a pot of gold waiting to solve our problems. Neither is likely to occur. We must finally decide if we want to do the things that will sustain our safety or continue to do the things that are perceived as the fair thing to do. No one ever said life was fair. In fact it is far from it. But if we have to choose between what some perceive as fair, and what all of us would have to admit is prudent, the decision is not nearly as complicated as we sometimes make it. As soon as some really awful situation occurs that involves police or fire personnel not being able to respond due to the “fairness” doctrine that some seem intent on holding on to, I suspect that the lines and signs at the save the park and library protest will diminish “fairly” quickly.

There is a time for fairness and equity and a time for common sense. Guess what time it is now?
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