Let’s put problems in perspective
By Steve Blount
Special to the Post
To the old stories involving an elephant ó one suggesting the only way to deal with a big task is one bite at a time, the other dealing with the different descriptions three blind men give based on which part of the elephant they touch ó let me add a third story dealing with perspective.
From far enough away, an elephant may seem an ant-like creature of little consequence or danger. From very, very close, that same elephant seems indescribably large, malodorous and full of threat. Only from the proper perspective can one really understand the true size, shape and relative danger of this creature.
The same is true of the problems facing our community. Elected officials’ perspective of issues is often altered by the magnifying glass of politics, warped by the pressure of media coverage or limited by the distance of time and the lack of immediate consequences. As a result, some issues of relatively limited importance garner serious interest, much activity and quick action while other issues of much greater importance are delayed, marginalized or completely ignored.
With the commissioners’ planning retreat coming up soon and an election process beginning, let’s hope our commissioners and commissioner candidates will gain new perspective and tackle the following issues and more in the coming year:
– At last year’s retreat, red flags were raised concerning current and future capital needs for our school system and county government. At the same time, commissioners became aware of the very real debt limits that may in the near future stop our ability to borrow to meet these needs. What are our leaders proposing as a solution to this problem?
– With the vast majority of tomorrow’s jobs requiring at least an associate degree, how will we improve our local school system to ensure our children not only graduate but are competitive in the 21st century economy? The details are in the hands of state and local education leaders, but are our commissioners willing to provide our school system with needed support, resources, and funding to make significant improvements?
– Some 15,000 economic development organizations are competing this year in the United States for an estimated 1,200 major business relocations. Increasingly, quality- of-life issues are the deciding factor in where those and new businesses decide to build. What’s being done to ensure Rowan remains an attractive place that will be considered by progressive business leaders? A cheap but under-educated workforce, relatively low taxes and only average incentive policy aren’t enough to make us stand out.
– And thinking about economic development, as our population and the associated cost of government services grows without similar growth in our tax base, our real tax rate (adjusted for property revaluation) will be forced to rise or our leaders will be forced to cut services and funding for essential needs like education. Have our leaders given any thought to slowing or directing population growth as a way to limit the demands for expensive services? And for you candidates promising to cut taxes, how about giving us a list of things you plan to cut (at about $1 million per penny of tax rate) when you make that promise.
– With polluted air exceeding EPA standards, skyrocketing oil prices impacting our transportation decisions and a drought exposing our region’s proximity to disastrous depletion of our natural resources, what can we do locally to control growth and development to ensure a good and prosperous future for our community’s citizens? Limited land use planning isn’t enough. Are we ready to impose the controls real planning would surely suggest? And while the voluntary farmland preservation program gives some protection to farmers, it is no substitute for conservation easements when it comes to saving environmentally critical areas in our community from development.
– The Charlotte region continues to grow more prosperous, but a closer examination shows a widening rift in wealth and per capita income between core and outer ring counties like Rowan. What are we doing to optimize our place in the region? Regional issues are being debated and decisions are being made at venues not even attended by our elected and appointed officials. Are we ready and able to reach out and become active members of the region?
Warped perspective may be the reason some minor issues get major attention while other, more significant issues are ignored. If not addressed, though, these and other major problems may soon stomp our community and its citizens flat like an angry elephant too long ignored. In the short run, leadership is simpler when complex and controversial issues are ignored. Delay will only make the problems bigger, though, and the solutions more painful for our citizens.
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Steve Blount is a former member of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, serving as chairman from 2000 to 2003.