Let There Be Light

“Don't worry,” the optometrist said as she turned to write something down on my chart, “it happens to everyone at a certain age.”

At a certain age.

I've been hearing that a lot lately — from my eye doctor telling me a pair of tiny cataracts are nothing to worry about; from my dentist, the estimable Dr. Green, who explains that, at a certain age, silver fillings need to be replaced; from my financial advisor, who keeps harping about how, at a certain age, it's time to get your plans in order.

I suppose there is, at a certain age, a recognition of the clock winding down. But I had supposed that point wouldn't arrive for me for a while yet.

But I keep getting all these hints, nudges, proddings that the time is now, sooner rather than later.

Folks around here anyway have long been anticipating my becoming that angry old man who yells at the kids to stay off his lawn. In fact, I think they have been looking forward to it, that it would be fun to watch, me actually becoming the “mean old man” they said I'd become.

But if there is any distinctive change in me in recent years (at least that I've noticed), it's been a general acceptance that the world is hard to change, that in fact a lawn is to be played on — maybe a game of whiffle ball home run derby.

There are certain things, though, I expect would bother me at any age.

Recently, city government reaffirmed it's commitment to provide up to $500,000 of taxpayer money to a private developer, to just give it to him without requirement it be repaid.

I worry about local government. To borrow from Mr. Lincoln (and if you're to borrow, always borrow from the best), local government is our last best hope. State government has become just a poor imitation of Congress, reflecting all its warts without any of its wisdom.

So when local government strays from the path, I am alarmed.

Were there some compelling reason for those tax dollars to be so appropriated, some lurking danger for which the expenditure of public money were justifiable, that would be entirely different.

In an emergency, wherever money can be found that's where you go to get it and put it to use remedying the situation.

But there is no emergency — at least, no danger to the public — to justify what the city has agreed to do. It just doesn't make sense, this untoward use of tax dollars on a private project.

And to make matters worse, those local tax dollars won't even be spent locally — there will be no pump-priming of the local economy, as the money will enrich an out-of-county firm.

The development for which this money is to be employed is neither absolutely necessary nor will it alleviate a public danger.

It will be very nice for the city to have, even a showcase, but hardly vital to the city's future.

Others involved in downtown development are undertaking similar projects but weren't offered the same help. Which raises the question of why this one and not any of the others.

If, now, another developer were to apply for public monies to help with a private development, would the city come through for him? Would tax dollars come his way?

Not likely.

It is just bad public policy (very bad public policy) to do for one and not for others, to single out a winner, to provide competitive advantage to this developer over other developers.

There is no certain age at which this kind of misuse of public funds should be acceptable.

Gayle R. Robbins is editor and publisher of The Sun-Commercial. He can be reached at grobbins@suncommercial.com.

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