When the El Dorado Grand Jury issued its annual report, one of the recommendations it made was to take a serious look at the elimination of Placerville and South Lake Tahoe by merging with the county. Eighty-five percent of the county's residences, with the exception of Placerville and South Lake Tahoe, are currently served by the county.
The forming of cites is more than 150 years old and, while appropriate to that time, has long outlived its usefulness. In 1848, Placerville was overwhelmed by thousands of miners and no services available. In 1850, it took months to get a letter to San Francisco, the circuit judge came twice a year and there was no police, fire or planning. It's easy to see why people banned together - to provide some sense of order.
After police and fire came, all the services that the passage of time demanded. In the same way business grew, private companies were formed and services provided. The difference between the private and the public is that the private cannot tax and must be productive to survive. The results, companies founded in our lifetime, look very different today, while government remains the same. Police today can do more than an entire police station could do 20 years ago, yet cities continue to operate just like they did 50 years ago, when people actually knew the policeman who patrolled their area, and parks and athletic fields were free.
Prior to proposition 13, cities got away with it - they just raised the taxes to meet their demands. Tax payers revolted and cities had to be responsible. But, instead of responsibility, they cut service and looked for ways to make money. Why continue while it's failing? Ego, or "we have always done it this way," seems to be the most poplar answer.
The county sheriff is about 100 feet from the local police station. The county and city planning, snow removal and social services are just down the street. Why do we need this duplication of service, the duplication of management? Imagine how many copy machines and phone systems we are paying for at a cost of more than $9 million annually.
Cities are going bankrupt, services have diminished and it's time to move our thinking in to the 21st century. First with the telephone, today with the computer, fewer are able to do more with less. Our roads are crumbling, the cost of our public recreation is growing. A working family with three children pays as much as $1,000 per year so their children can use public soccer fields. The result: no soccer for that family. We blame fast food for childhood obesity; I blame lack of recreation, recreation that should be a government service, not a profit center.
The city of South Lake has shown us it can do with less. Today the staff has been drastically cut because of budget issues. Rather then localize through cities, the tax base and the service, we need to expand our tax base and create local commissions that specialize. If we go back to the county, your tax bill will not go down, but the financial base for service grows. With the entire county as a financial base, we could then create a local Recreation Commission, a local group made up of actual locals who know about their sports and the needs. The local group would meet regularly, take in local input and go to countywide meetings and fight for a share of the county's dollars, which would include the million dollar homes of El Dorado hills.
There is no perfect answer, but like health insurance, you have to have some well people in the program to support the ill. We would have local roads commission, a local planning commission, local interest and people serving on these commissions. At the same time, the financial pot would be bigger, the needs better served.
First, by the massive elimination of the local waste and duplication, and then by the deeper pockets of the larger pool, you get the best of both. I suggest it's worth looking at but, without voter pressure, the local beneficiaries of the current system will not.
- Ted long is a former South Lake Tahoe city council member and was foreperson of the El Dorado County Grand Jury. He served as chairman of LAFO and is a past president of the League of California Cities Sacramento division.