"There go my people; I must find out where they are going so I can lead them."
— Often-repeated quote attributed to Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, a French radical politician
Jackson County commissioners might reflect on that old political joke while they decide what to do now that a survey has revealed that county voters don't want to pay more to support public services.
Commissioner Don Skundrick — showing real leadership, something his two colleagues might consider emulating — came up with the idea of a modest monthly surcharge on each household in the county. The fee of $7 per month would pay for county jail operations, freeing up money to be used for other items in the general fund, including sheriff's patrols, veterans services, the Extension Service and libraries.
Skundrick's idea was to use a surcharge because it would collect from everyone, not just property owners, and because it could be implemented without a public vote. But Commissioners John Rachor and Doug Breidenthal refused to consider such a charge without putting it to a vote, and the survey was conducted to gauge public support before placing it on the ballot.
To the surprise of no one, 57 percent of respondents said they opposed the idea, 31 percent favored it and 11 percent were undecided. The commissioners will discuss the results this week, but Skundrick says the surcharge idea is probably dead.
So much for leadership.
Without new sources of revenue, many county services eventually will disappear or be drastically cut. For now, Jackson County is in better shape than any of the other so-called timber counties, but its reserves will not last forever.
Despite the claims of critics, the county does not have enough money to continue providing services at current levels by "living within its means" or "being more efficient." Living within its means, without any new revenue, means eliminating services many county residents depend on.
To be sure, the commissioners' six-figure salaries send precisely the wrong message. But the reality is, even if the three commissioners volunteered to work for free, it would only be enough to cover the county's contribution to the Extension Service and maybe one sheriff's deputy. Forget the libraries, the veterans services office and any social service programs.
The commissioners could do the unpopular thing and impose a modest surcharge on county residents to continue those services at their already depleted levels. Instead, they appear likely to allow the county to be dismantled.
For a glimpse of what that will be like, look no further than Josephine County, where juvenile offenders are slipping through the cracks, adult criminals roam free because there is no money to keep them in jail and rural residents are on their own for lack of sheriff's patrols.
Our system of government is a representative democracy, meaning leaders are elected to make decisions on the people's behalf, not to call for a public vote whenever the decisions get too difficult.