Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Where I live...Bootstraps and all
I mentioned that the county population is less than 2,300 people. That means there are even fewer voters than that here. Don't get me wrong, people here vigorously exercise their right to vote. We have higher voter turnout averages than the state or national average for every single election. The problem is that with so few voters we have no political clout. We're a whole county that can be ignored because we can't swing elections.

Therefore getting the shaft from the capital is a way of life. We've actually had delegates from other counties suggest that we take our problems and our special needs and break off from our state and join the neighboring state. Our state legislature, like any legislature, loves to send one-size-fits-all mandates to us and we just don't have enough people and enough tax base to support their mandates. They're killing our school system with their nonsense right now.

The weak tax base means that things that most county governments can easily afford are out of reach for us. Thirty years ago a group of people went to the Board of Supervisors asking for a library. One of the supervisors actually said out loud that the county didn't need a library because no one in the county reads. Despite such a ridiculous rebuff the group pressed on. They raised money and started a library as a non-profit. Later they raised enough money through private donations to build a library building of their own. They went back to the supervisors. This time they proved they had a going concern and asked for county support. Finally, the supervisors took them seriously and started supporting the library with some funding. Unfortunately since then it has continued to be underfunded by the county and to this day relies heavily on donations to operate.

The local radio station is part of a public radio network shared by three counties in two states. The station in town was built entirely with volunteer labor until the very end, when the finishing work needed to be done. Most of the materials were donated. It's programs are hosted by volunteers. The station manager is the only paid employee, otherwise they use VISTA volunteers. Like all public radio stations they support themselves through grants and private donations.

The recreation department benefited from the fact that a supervisor had it in his mind that his legacy to the county would be a swimming pool. This was accomplished through the magical combination of grants, matching grants, and private donations. Once again building materials were donated, labor was donated, and volunteers were called upon. The pool opened up last summer. I visited it once for a birthday pool party and was very impressed with the results of all that effort. It certainly wasn't done without controversy because people rightly surmised that even if the pool was built with funds and grants, the county budget would end up supporting it's continued sustainability. When there's very little money to go around people get touchy about supporting recreation.

The local medical center was built with grant money and private donations (Are we seeing a theme yet?). It was another situation where the locals had to make it happen. What started as a homegrown project now looks remarkably like a modern medical center anywhere else. While I now take my kids to a pediatrician thirty miles away, I still like knowing that medical help is close at hand if I need it.

The Fire Department and Rescue Squads are all volunteer. That's not all that remarkable in rural country, but when you see everywhere else people are volunteering it's a wonder we have enough people left to do fire and rescue.

M and I are not immune to the siren call of volunteerism. M was on the medical center board, the SPCA board, the Chamber of Commerce, and on the radio board at varying times. I've been on the library board, the business incubator board, and we've both done volunteer work for the recreation department.

If you don't volunteer for those organizations there's always the Lions Club, the three different Ruritan groups, the Masons, the various school-related organizations, or the church organizations who could use your help raising money though bingo, food booths, free will donation dinners, silent auctions, sweater sales, ,blood drives, and product sales. Seriously, brother, can you spare a dime?