Maddening Lessons On A Somber Labor Day

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Once past the trout fishing, swimming hole splashing and back yard barbecuing, we face a somber Labor Day this year.

Employment remains mired at more than 9 percent and a recent study shows that half of the unemployed have gone without work for a full year. The report out today shows no jobs were created this past month, the first time since 1945, according to some accounts.

Tragically, our politicians are now consumed with ideological and partisan bitterness and beholden to special interests groups. Instead of spending every waking moment on jobs, they’ve turned to sound bite campaigns for a distant election. If you want to know why voters feel a despairing cynicism about whether Washington will ever fix the economy, consider the way federal agencies in Rim Country have made an awful economy worse.

Visionary community leaders have come up with three brilliant ways to revitalize Rim Country’s economy.

First, we can build a four-year college here that will spawn a state college system, bringing enormous benefits to the state and about 600 good jobs to Rim Country.

Second, we can build the Blue Ridge pipeline, which will produce hundreds of construction jobs and lay the foundation for resumed growth.

Third, the 4-Forest Initiative will revive the timber industry and protect forest communities from wildfires while creating hundreds of jobs in wood product industries.

Tragically, the Forest Service seems determined to strangle all three initiatives. The Forest Service promised to act on the Blue Ridge environmental assessment nearly a year ago — but now remains mute.

Congress directed the Forest Service to sell the land Payson needs for the college nearly a decade ago — but that federal agency apparently wants to do a host of needless studies before it acts.

Finally, we have known we need forest thinning on a massive scale for decades, but the Forest Service continues to limp along like a blind, three-legged hog afraid to make any decisions.

President Obama has again taken to the airwaves saying “it is all about jobs.” Well the Rim Country has the ability to create jobs right now, right in front of us.

Taken together, these studies offer a maddening cast study that not only has government failed to create jobs —it can’t even seem to get out of the way.

Blunders on tax rates will cost schools voter support

Rim Country property owners got a nasty shock this year courtesy of the Payson Unified School District with news of an eye-popping 50-percent jump in tax rates.

The increase will cost most homeowners several hundred dollars, even if you factor in the average 11-percent decline in property values.

Worse yet: Despite the jump, the district will actually have less money to spend, thanks to state formulas to equalize per-student spending statewide.

The school board this week seemed just as baffled by the huge increase as voters, which tells you something about whether the governing board is really in the loop.

The rate increase stems from a perfect storm of bad luck and miscalculation — some of it the state’s fault, some of it the district’s fault.

The Legislature this year turned public school budget forecasting into a nightmare. First, lawmakers adjusted certain formulas to compensate for a statewide 20-percent decline in property values. Then the Legislature fiddled with various funding formulas for all kinds of programs to reduce state funding. This affected the district’s year-end balance — which in turn affects the property tax rate.

But clearly, some of the blame for the drastic increase falls on the district. The district’s new finance manager explained this week that last year the district over-estimated revenues by about $1.7 million. That’s an error of close to 15 percent. Because the district didn’t collect enough money last year, it had to draw on a line of credit. Then it had to boost the tax rate this year to cover the flawed estimates. That combination of state irresponsibility and district mistakes required the wrenching case of “catch-up” this year.

So once again, the taxpayer gets pounded. Struggling to stay afloat in a sickly economy as home values dwindle, those beleaguered taxpayers now face a much higher property tax bill and a likely 26-percent increase in the cost of propane. The school district must protect taxpayers from such sticker shock in the future. At minimum, it means the administration had better get the revenue numbers right this year. Moreover, we hope the school board will insist on keeping abreast of the budget complexities — so they can educate the voters.

This community has always supported its schools, from the budget override vote to Credit for Kids contributions. We hope the district will protect that support by avoiding any repeat of this year’s rate-setting fiasco.

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