People complain about taxes but it’s rare indeed when a taxpayer appears at a public hearing on proposed rates held by a taxing entity. It is even more rare when a taxpayer writes to a taxing entity to protest, approve, or question proposed rates, especially increases.
The Franklin County Commission this past Tuesday held a public hearing on proposed property tax rates that included increases in both the general fund and road and bridge fund. The hearing was publicized as required by law. No one showed up, as usual.
While the rate increases were small, they still were hikes. With the new rates, some property owners will pay more, and a few less, based on assessed valuations. Total assessed property valuations showed a drop this year chiefly due to general economic conditions in the housing market. A news story in Wednesday’s Missourian listed the new rates, which were approved without any major discussion. The entire hearing took a couple of minutes. That’s more the norm than unusual.
This is another indication that the general public doesn’t pay much attention to the governmental bodies that represent them unless an entity steps on their toes, or proposes to do so by some action.
Many of our elected officials know of this inattention of the general public to their actions and they make fun of that fact. Probably one of the prime examples of a public official who was heard to say words to that effect was the late President L. B. Johnson. He was leaving a city he visited and waving to the crowd. He was heard to say something like this: You dumb SOBs. You don’t know what’s going on! Those words were in one of the many books written about Johnson, who was a crude man, to say the least.
Why the inattention? It’s because people have other priorities in their lives. There are so many distractions in our lives today. Even with a recession, many people have the means to engage in countless activities that distract from the governmental entities and their actions. “There’s nothing to do.” That may have been true in a past era or two, but now there is so much going on that no one should be bored. That’s no excuse for not paying attention to what our elected representatives are doing because what they do affects them.
Our educators need to provide a spark that would ignite interest in government in our young people. We can’t expect our teachers to do it alone. Parents need to help even if it means just conversation at the dinner table. Field trips that engage students in government are helpful. Taking a class to a city council meeting, for instance, is very informative of what government is all about. We’ve seen young people in Scouting at governmental meetings. That’s a positive move.
One of the most important tools in learning about government is reading community newspapers.
When public meetings on tax rates are held, that would be an ideal time for a class to visit. They should be prepared before the meeting to ask questions.
The inattention to our governmental bodies and to what they are doing is not new. Poor voter turnout in some elections is one of the shames of America. Good government only happens when people are informed, are tuned in to their governmental bodies, study issues, vote intelligently, and participate in our democratic system.