The Herald Bulletin

August 16, 2013

Editorial: City Council members must separate 'wants' from 'needs'


The Herald Bulletin

---- — The line that separates "needs" from "wants" is often blurred.

Take for example, a teenager who says she needs a new smart phone. Her "need" for the phone is open to interpretation. Does she need it because her old phone is broken? Does she need it because it has new gadgets? Or because it just looks cooler? Does she need it because it's essential for her to do research for a term paper or because it helps her better communicate with teachers and classmates?

These are all important questions for any parent to ask when determining whether the value of the new phone is worth the cost, in the context of the household budget.

On a much different level, these are the same sorts of questions that government bodies should ask when trying to determine tax rates and use of public funds.

Anderson City Council is faced with such decisions continually. Council members, at this time of year particularly, have to make difficult choices about how to use limited tax dollars. Annual budget hearings will begin soon, and along with them, much gnashing of teeth.

A number of other specific local "needs" have surfaced, as well.

-- The city water department wants to undertake $14.3 million worth of projects, including the replacement of a water plant, to upgrade local facilities.

-- The fire department's proposed 2014 budget includes the building of a new fire station and the purchase of two new ambulances and a ladder truck.

-- Anderson Municipal Light & Power has proposed a rate increase, which the council already voted to push forward in December. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal in late November.

All of these projects, when considered individually, might be worthy of the monetary outlay required to accomplish them. But the council has to keep in mind the overall city budget, as well as the impact of user fees on citizens.

The water treatment upgrades would raise the average residential bill from about $19 a month to about $28 a month. The electric rate hike would cost consumers, on average, about $6 more a month. While these increases may not seem onerous, when you put them into the context of all of the local, state and federal taxes and user fees Anderson residents pay, it may seem to some that citizens are being nickle-and-dimed into debt.

So, city council members and other local officials have a heady responsibility in the months ahead to take into account shrinking tax revenue and the user-fee burden on residents and make the very best decisions about what to approve and what to turn away.

Council members should ask all of the tough questions before reaching these decisions: Can we repair instead of replace? Why is a rate hike justified? What are our other options?

The community simply can't afford to lay out more money for improvements and to raise user fees unless it's absolutely necessary. Basically, we elect these officials to bring that blurry line between "want" and "need" into focus.

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In summary Council members, at this time of year particularly, have to make difficult choices about how to use limited tax dollars and when to approve increases in user fees.