Wednesday, May 05, 2010

One vote, no tea

Yesterday, I voted in our local Town Council elections. Voter turnout for such elections is traditionally low, which is a shame. Because in one sense, these are the elections that matter very much. In this case, 27% -- about 600 voters -- of the electorate turned out.

While policies of the Federal Government have some impact on our lives, our local governments do so even more. In the area where I live, members of the Town Council have to decide the town's resources should be managed, and consider ways to expand them. And ways to fund them. And many other rulings that directly affect my life.

For example: in order to make ends meet the town imposed a meal tax. That changed our eating habits. We don't go out as much (going to the next town doesn't help -- they do it too). Trash collection is the town's responsibility. What I can put in the trash is regulated, which in turn determines how often I have to go to the dump as we renovate our house.

We have a big problem with deer, groundhogs, and other wildlife. Even though we're not close to other houses, we can't invite a hunter in to take care of the problem -- town ordinances forbid discharging firearms within town limits.

Property taxes, town stickers for the car, water and sewer rates are all set by the town. (yes, we have county taxes too, but let's keep on topic). The success or failure to keep businesses in town impacts the economic health of the community. And the type of businesses allowed in also color the character of the community. Those are all decisions ultimately made by the Town Council.

Snow removal, street repair, law enforcement -- all services provided by the town. And the Town Council determines the budget. The Council hires the Town Manager.The competency of that person can play a big role in how desirable the community is to live in.

What about development? Should we keep that open space, or put up another housing development? What the Council ultimately decides makes a big difference if the property under discussion is across the street from your house!

One final thing: while it's popular to characterize politicians as greedy, lying careerists, it works a little differently on the local level. No one ever got rich (legally) by serving on a town council -- not at $300 a month. Because its extremely local, and you run into your constituents everywhere -- in a restaurant, at the grocery store, at a gas station, at a party, or even just walking down the street. And few of them are shy about telling you in detail how good or (more often) how poor a job you're doing.

So yes, I voted in the local elections. And may I say that I'm grateful to the entire field of candidates for being civic-minded enough to run. It's a step further than I care to take.

- Ralph

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