Monday, November 02, 2015

Voting local -- enlightened self-interest

Friends of mine who are far more active politically than I am usually get discouraged this time of year. As they canvas the area, trying to get out the vote, they hear the same thing over and over: "I only vote in the presidential elections -- local elections aren't that important."

I wonder what they would say if asked to vote on their property tax rate. Since that's a local and not a national matter, would they pass on participating? I think not.

Here's an organizational chart published by the boards of supervisors for the county I live in. (click on image to enlarge)

Think about the issues you care most about, and look at how much the action of local officials can have an effect.


We have an elected school board. They decide how the public schools will be run. They ultimately have the power improve the quality of education in the county, or run it into the ground. The Board of Supervisors sets the budget, so they determine how much funding the county libraries receive. And they also appoint the library board. So if you have strong opinions about the role of a public library and what books and materials should -- or shouldn't -- be available to the public, the supervisors appoint the people who will decide that.

Public Safety:

We elect the county sheriff, who in turn hires (or fires) the officers and staff of the department. Only in movies and TV shows can a law enforcement agency devote 100% of its staff to every case. So decisions have to be made. What crimes does the sheriff consider most important, and best use of his resources? Is vagrancy more important than domestic violence? Traffic control more important than breaking and entering? The voters get to decide what direction the department takes when they vote.

Economic Growth and Development:

The Board so Supervisors appoints people to the Planning Commission, the Economic Development Authority, and the Zoning Board. Do you want every acre of land covered with homes, or would you prefer strip mall? Want opportunities for folks (maybe even you) to get a decent job in your own county? These are the people who decide what property gets developed, what goes on it, and what kind of businesses move into your county.

Public Funding:

The Board of Supervisors sets the budget for the county. So all the local public services -- parks and recreations, sewer and water, trash collection and disposal, animal shelter, social services, public education, fire, rescue, and police departments -- get what funds the Board allocates to them.

So if you think the animal shelter is important, better make sure the supervisor you elect agrees. Otherwise, that's one less voice for funding the shelter during the budget talks.


And one thing more: how do you feel about taxes? A good portion of that county budget is funded by locally raised taxes. Like your real estate and personal property tax. Like the rates for water and sewer. Like the dumping fees at the land fill. Like the fees for business licenses. And so on.

So if you live someplace where emergency services are never needed, sidewalks and roads never require maintenance, there's no personal property or real estate taxes, utilities are free and children are born with a college-level education, then there's no need for you to vote in a local election.

I live in a different world, so I'll be voting tomorrow. It's my civic duty as a citizen. And because the decisions of these local officials have such a big impact on my daily life, it's also enlightened self-interest.

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