Make our City Better without Raising Taxes

Written by D. A. Graham

I have been walking regularly to many errands to save money on gas, wear-and-tear on the car, and to tamp down the urge to spend money on a gym membership. While an energizing and cleansing experience, these walks reveal unpleasant sights in my city: litter, leaves clogging street drains, and stray shopping carts.

These are not earth-shattering problems of course, but chores that are likely to remain neglected with my city’s projected budget shortfalls. My city of about 83,000 people is predicted to face at least a $4 million budget shortfall. Many cuts to the budget are likely to be come from a reduction of services in public safety, parks, city beautification and library funding.
With the economy in tatters, it is unlikely any official or taxpayer would welcome tax hikes to pay for these services. However, another remedy – virtually free and hugely more attractive than raising taxes – could be for regular folks to fill in a few gaps that the city once filled. I’ve seen several examples of this during the last few months, and it really inspires me.
Litter: On my walks to and from the grocery store, I’ve noticed an elderly couple regularly walking together. They are holding hands and chatting to each other as we pass. One day, while enjoying their obvious companionship, I noticed a plastic shopping bag full of trash clutched in each of their free hands. The bags were full and the sidewalk behind them was clear of trash.
I commented to them one day how much I appreciated them picking up the sidewalk and how much nicer my walk was because of them. “We usually get several full bags when we walk every other day,” the older lady said. “We got tired of complaining about how awful the trash looked and decided to do something about it.”

Shopping carts: One of the joys of living near a shopping area is that you don’t need to drive a car to the store. The downside is that when one needs to do a lot of shopping, it is not easy to get all the groceries home. Thus, shopping carts are often walked away from the store and can be regularly spotted tucked into shrubs near apartment houses or queued by the bus stops.
Before financial times got tight, I noticed city trucks taking care of the shopping carts. I couldn’t believe my city took care of that task, but it has been a while since I’ve noticed that happening. Instead, I’ve seen another pair of Good Samaritans taking the lead in this issue. These fellows had filled their truck bed full of shopping carts. They were even arranged by store for easy drop-off. This driver said he fills up his truck bed once a week with the help of his carpool buddy on their way out to work. On their way home, they drop the carts off at the stores. “I think I could fill up my truck another time every week,” he said. “I just don’t have the time for it.”

Leaves: We all love our trees in my city. The trees are beautiful and leafy and people have a fit if one needs to be cut down. The leaves, however, are a problem in the autumn and winter when they clog the storm drains during our rainy season, which in turn causes floods in the streets. Unclogging the storm drains was a service performed by our city with the very cool vacuum trucks. The kids got a kick out of watching the big hose go into the drain to suck away the leaves, and then watch all the water rush into the unclogged drain.

We rarely spot that truck in our part of town anymore, but the leaves are still causing problems. Again on my walks, I’ve spotted several people walking along their streets with a rake and bucket to unclog the drains on their streets. My wife and I and one of our neighbors have even taken up the task, patrolling our streets to make sure the water goes where it should.
Inspired: When I talked with the people above, they told me that they had alerted their city councilperson to the problem and were each told that the service is likely to be reduced because of the lack of money. So they decided to find a way to solve the problem in their neighborhood.

Insulated in my car, I hadn’t been so aware of these problems. Walking around my city has opened my eyes. These folks have inspired me to want to make my city more beautiful too without having to spend more tax dollars to do it. I’d rather see what money is left in my city’s budget go to make our town safer, support our elderly and youth, and keep the library open.
And, I’m going to send my city councilor an email about that too… just after I go pick up the litter on my street.

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