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Local government, allocating scarse resources
August 21, 2013 - Stephen Browne
Part of my job is covering meetings of the Lincoln and Yellow Medicine County commissions. I attend one or the other alternately on every Tuesday.
Last Tuesday I covered Lincoln County and heard a back-and-forth I've heard a lot of over the past few years.
Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Vizecky, backstopped by Emergency Manager Jeanna Sommers wants the board to start considering plans to construct two new wings onto the passage between the court house and the law enforcement center. The board, accompanied by Yours Truly, took a tour of the existing facilities: radio room, training/meeting room, and a cramped office with one desk shared by three deputies.
As described, there wasn't enough room to swing the proverbial cat.
Vizecky and Sommers pointed out there's a whole bunch of next generation equipment coming out that they'll have to fit in that equipment room: 911 call processing, emergency radio, the emergency siren control equipment etc. Training and meeting space is pretty confined, there's a lack of storage space for vehicle impound and large items of seized evidence... the list goes on.
This isn't the first time I've seen the Sheriff come in with requests for additional vehicles, equipment or personnel.
Vizecky likes to point out something like an SUV or latest generation emergency radio is like a cop. Not something you need very often - but when you need it you really need it. He's quite right.
Commissioners point out fancy stuff is expensive and the tax base of rural counties is small and not likely to get bigger any time soon in the case of Lincoln County.
They're right too.
Ever since I began to cover rural infrastructure issues I've noticed something. There are certain rock-bottom costs no matter what the population is.
It costs just as much to run a two-lane blacktop road to a community of 300 people as it does to a city of 300,000. More traffic means more maintenance cost, but in this part of the country the wear and tear on roads comes from winter as much as traffic.
Same for the emergency radio system. I doubt if basic costs are much more for Lyon County than for Lincoln County.
Somehow local government has got to decide what they're going to need, what they'll have to wait on, and what they can do without.
Whatever they decide, someone is likely to be upset. Watching the process by which the choices are made is interesting, but I don't envy them.
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