Council should focus on its role, not charity

It is not the business of our local government to take our tax dollars to help others.

It is our city government’s job to provide law enforcement, ensure orderly land use and deal with nuisances, provide certain utility services the free market cannot and provide library and parks services. Our city once provided fire protection and ambulance services, but in the pursuit of stable funding, that function was spun off a decade ago.

Now some city Budget Committee members and others argue that Sweet Home should be involved in economic development efforts too, simply because a solid economy helps provide funding for the city’s other responsibilities.

The list above isn’t long, and it doesn’t include feeding our hungry neighbors. We already do that via federal and state programs and through generous local donations.

The Budget Committee has diverted some $13,000 to local charities from money city staff had recommended be saved in the building reserve fund. They added another $5,000 to the City Council’s community grants program, for a grand total of $18,000 in charity spending.

Mayor Craig Fentiman stood alone in an attempt to stop this spending. We supported his position then, and we support it now.

It would seem strange – and it would be wrong – for the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District to fork over reserve funds used to buy ambulances to city charities. Its purpose and the reason it receives our taxes is more or less to provide fire suppression, rescue and medical services, not to feed the hungry. We expect our tax dollars to support those purposes.

It would seem strange – and it would be wrong – for School District 55 to fork out operating funds to support the work of a food bank. Its purpose is to educate children. We expect our tax dollars to support that purpose.

It would seem strange – and it would be wrong – for the Sweet Home Cemetery District to fork out dollars to a women’s shelter.

It would seem strange – and it would be wrong – for Linn County to use funds from its Veterans Home local option levy to support a program that feeds children over the weekends.

We understand that all the proposed recipients of this money could use it. We sympathize with that. But they didn’t ask the Budget Committee for help in the first place and even if they did, it wouldn’t be right.

Whether or not we need a new City Hall isn’t the issue here. We certainly will at some point, and the city is wise in saving now for that eventuality.

It would be an amazing feat and a shining example to other government agencies if the City of Sweet Home were to save money entirely within its allotted income and build a new City Hall without ever asking the taxpayers of this town for another dime. That would be fiscal responsibility, a lesson most other agencies could stand to learn. Criticism of the city’s socking away $345,000 to meet that goal is misplaced.

The real issue is whether our city tax money should be applied to a purpose that is not within the city’s realm of responsibility. The answer is no, no matter how much sympathy we feel toward those who are in distress. The only way the council can legitimately help those in need is to cut taxes so we will all have more in our pockets, hopefully to donate to those who need it more than we do.

The council should turn down the Budget Committee’s recommendation at its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28 after it holds a public hearing on the budget.

It should reduce these funds to zero and place the money into its reserves.

Sweet Home has and will take care of its charitable organizations.