Twenty-five odd years ago I wrote for a farming newspaper in Ohio called the Firelands Farmer.
My editor at the time had assigned a story about a dairy farmer who was frustrated with the price of milk. At the time, I lived in the largest dairy-producing county in the state and we were seeing neighbor after neighbor having to auction off their farm. And the farmer I was assigned to feature was focused on changing how milk was priced. He was tired of watching his community disintegrate before his very eyes and he thought his product had more value than what the government thought it was worth.
I remember sitting at his kitchen table when he explained that the problem with the current model of milk pricing was that the people deciding the price looked only at how much they could give, and the producer no longer said, this is what my product is worth.
So what does the price of milk have to do with politics?
I tell this story because after watching numerous communities put together municipal budgets, I too have seen communities disintegrate before my very eyes over the last 10 years. Roads projects have been postponed (mine was supposed to have been done five years ago), mowing medians has become optional (Racine), library funding has been cut (Milwaukee County), mental health services have become sparse (Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties) and parks funding has been cut.
And the reason for this disintegration is because we have failed to ask, what (if any) is the value of local government? We say we don’t want to be taxed anymore, which I understand given how financially distressed many of us are. I'm no millionaire. But the conversations I see often get too tied up in emotions and judgment of another person’s beliefs. And often those discussions don't produce solutions to our problems.
We quickly dismiss the value of local government services and have decided that these services are much too costly to sustain. We have decided that we don’t need government. We don’t need places to play. We don’t need books. We don’t need places of solace when we’ve reached our breaking point. We don’t need regulations. We don’t need protected.
Or do we?
So now the Village of Caledonia faces a potential $900,000 deficit. The question our elected officials will likely ask is: how much police and fire protection will we be able to afford? But the real question our citizens should be asking is: how much is our police and fire protection worth to us? And what role do we play in minimizing the use of those services? What can we do to get along better so that we aren't calling the police or can we act in a way where we aren't doing harm to yourself or others?
These are important questions. And I'm sure the Village Board knows the value of these services, but do we know the value of these services?
Because ultimately if we fail to value our government, especially local government, of course these services will be expendable. I think it's interesting to note that when the colonist cried “No taxes without representation.” They meant: let us run our own affairs. So if it’s our money, shouldn’t we have a say in how it is spent?