DeFrates column: Given a little research, street tax seems like a good idea
The past two weeks have been an eye-opening experience for me in the realm of local politics, handing me both disillusionment and inspiration in equal parts.
In my mid-30s, busy with a family, a house, a part-time career, and everything else, for some reason, I have still chosen to waste far too much of my time engaging in meaningless online arguments about decisions being made thousands of miles away by people with 100 times my net worth.
Watching the issues pile up nationally, each stacking the canyon walls of partisanship a little higher, it is easy to adopt an attitude of fatalism and helplessness. What could my voice possibly matter in the million-person screaming match?
But, after a personal connection dragged me into the arena, I have finally accepted what many have told me all along — that the only place to make real change is at the local level. So I’ve started listening more closely, for better or worse.
The first thing I realized was how much of a time commitment it is just to stay informed, let alone hold public office.
My grandmother, Mary Wade, worked for decades on the city planning committee of a booming suburban area outside of Richmond, Virginia. Her commitment and forthrightness (a beloved family trait) were integral in regulating development to create beautiful, sustainable neighborhoods and commercial districts.
Being dragged to the meetings once a year was painful enough for me, each one stretching on for hours, complete with sometimes petty arguments, meticulous adherence to complicated city codes, and occasionally malfunctioning overhead projectors.
What she knew, and what I’m finally realizing, is that those unpaid hours are a long-term investment into the well-being of the community you care about.
Putting down roots is not something my generation is good at, however. As many millennials have already relocated many times in order to gain access to job markets or housing opportunities, it is difficult to see your way into civic service, or even participation.
In this valley, it’s even more so, when you have to work two jobs just to pay rent. This, I understand, and I am unique and blessed that I have ended up owning a home in a town I love.
Fortunately, in this information age, there are ways to stay engaged even if you’re trapped in the house by toddlers, transportation or other must-dos. You can watch the city council meetings streaming on a device from anywhere, then access all the attached documents, but this takes hours.
If you want to get specific about financial resources, it takes even longer. What I’m realizing however, (again, I know, late to the party), is that this is a conscious investment in the well-being of my community.
Most of my life, I lived comfortably with the assumption that everyone who works in local government is a motivated, intelligent (or at least benevolent) version of Leslie Knope.
Yet, this is not necessarily the case. Often, well-meaning individuals working for the city, or volunteering their time for council or a committee, are overwhelmed with the workload and do not take time to understand an issue fully before voting on it. Although there are public comment sessions for every major decision by the city council, many, if not most, members of the public are either unable to attend, or do not have the confidence or rhetorical ability to advocate for themselves.
With all that in mind, I’ll start with one local ballot issue, which I have researched thoroughly.
Street taxes — My opinion on this issue has gone back and forth many, many times. I have looked at it from several different perspectives, and wondered, along with many others, why the current street tax is not enough.
With so many millions, why can’t we keep up the maintenance? Many people seem to think we could and should.
Yet, despite this, I’ve decided to vote for the increase in tax for the following reason — I’d like to leave the city infrastructure better than I found it for my kids.
There are so many other major, expensive problems that we are leaving for their generation, including a booming population in the west, strained water resources, housing shortage, and the effects of climate change. I believe that better utilities and well-built streets are worth my cost of less than $100/year.
That being said, I do plan to watch how that money is managed very closely.
I know there are many, many more issues in which our town is currently engaged, but I don’t yet feel like I have adequate perspective and information to address them.
Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at www.roaringforkwriter.com.