We’ve Got the Pieces, But Who Makes It Whole?

Lane County Board of Commissioners last month endorsed a Fern Ridge Community Policing District for the Veneta area. Commissioner Faye Stewart had this to say: “This isn’t a piecemeal thing, …”

But that’s exactly what it is. Sorry, I interrupted.

Stewart continued: “… it’s a complete package” to bolster law enforcement in the area. “This is a model that can be replicated throughout the county.”

In other words, if the residents in and around Veneta approve the special district levy, other pieces of Lane County will be able to follow their lead. It may be a complete package, but only for a piece of the county.

Politicians are craven creatures, God bless ‘em. They want our approval, measured in vote counts, over and over. We love them for that. They’re always trying to figure out exactly what we want, as if that’s hard to discern — but it’s not.

What we voters want is simple to understand. We want free stuff. We want stuff that benefits us, but that others have to pay for.

Yes, um, but who exactly is “other,” in this case? That’s easy — people who can’t vote. (To be more specific, politicians will naturally be inclined to burden people who can’t vote them out of office.)

California is only now rethinking their practice of having incarcerated felons fight their wildfires. This powerless population has risen lately to 40 percent of California’s fire-fighting labor. They can’t vote against the politicians who mandated it. Ballots are not delivered to prisons. De facto slave labor prevents taxes from rising to fight fires. Residents love it, politicians love it, felons don’t count, everyone (who matters) wins!

As is often the case, California’s excess becomes Oregon’s caution. Felons as slave labor? We would NEVER do so such a thing! (Unless such a thing is exactly what we used to do, until California got burned for doing it.)

Besides slaves and felons, who else can our politicians tap so that voters don’t have to pay for what they want?

Out-of-towners are obvious marks, but without a sales tax, how do we get their money? Simple. Transient room tax, or as some ironically put it, a hospitality tax: “Welcome! Please give us roughly 10 percent of what you’re spending on lodging, for no discernible benefit. Then go home to wherever you came from, and vote against people who had nothing to do with this. You’re welcome, and Bon Voyage.”

Everyone taxes out-of-town residents. It’s almost considered unsportsmanlike to brag about it. Everybody’s voters are occasionally tourists elsewhere, so shifting the cost to others only compensates for how others have shifted their costs onto you.

Burden those with no means of revenge, but who? Slaves are outlawed, felons have fallen out of favor, tourists only even the score. Where is the next free lunch?

Veneta residents and the Lane County Commissioners seem willing to shift the burden of burglary and crime onto their neighbors. To their credit, the residents would be taxing themselves and the plan does include some preventative policing in the schools.

The question for the commissioners is slightly different. Will it reduce crime across the county, or simply shunt it to the nearest neighbors who didn’t pony up for extra protection? Would one neighborhood frankly be telling hoodlums there are easier pickings not too far down the road, where sheriff response times may be double?

It’s an unpleasant question that must be asked. Will countywide risk be reduced or redistributed? Will the entire county benefit from Fern Ridge Community Policing District?

Of course it’s piecemeal — that’s the only meal voters seem willing to eat. We rely on our leaders to attend to the Big Picture, and then we punish them whenever they try.

Residents are more than willing to protect their piece. When the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) forces gather, nobody credibly asks, “In whose back yard instead?” But that’s the question to be answered.

We must fashion solutions that are both stable and flexible, locally felt but widely supported. We’re not there yet. Until then:

All for one, and one for some, (but none for all)!

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.