In an ideal world, nobody would have to pay any taxes. We would all live merry lives and streets and schools would magically appear. But we all know it’s not an ideal world. We have to pay taxes to collectively fund those things and others that individually, we can’t pay for by ourselves. We trust the municipal entities that we put in place to spend our tax money wisely. There are many ways to define wisely, but one such definition that is in my dictionary would be to make sure our public facilities are current and efficient. Two stories on our front page this week suggest that some local facilities are neither. The first is a report on the first meeting of a recently-appointed Platte County Jail expansion committee. You may recall a story we did a few weeks back detailing the appointment of this committee, which is charged with developing recommendations to the Platte County Commission concerning a proposed expansion of the Platte County Detention Center, commonly known as the County Jail. You may also recall another story that chronicled a recent study that suggests the County Jail needs to be expanded from its current 150-bed capacity to more than 350 as part of an estimated $20 million project. I was not at the meeting Monday night, but I do know this: the committee has a tough job, for a couple of reasons. One, some County officials are not that enamored with expanding the jail. Case in point: Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown gave the committee a counter-productive pep when he said it may not come to any conclusions. Huh? Second, it’s my opinion that a few of the members of the committee will oppose any plan that calls for County funding of the possible $20 million price tag. To clarify, such funding will likely have to come in the form of a dedicated tax of some sort. Does the County need to expand the jail? There are compelling arguments in favor of it. First a county governmental entity must be able to house and care for county prisoners. If the current jail is at or near capacity, this primary duty will be compromised. Second, the current jail was built in 1996 and was projected to provide enough inmate housing for 20 years. Do the math — 20 years is coming round the bend. Hopefully, the County has learned its lesson that procrastination is not good policy. It did so for nearly 10 years when it knew it had to pony up $10 million for the federally-mandated emergency radio system upgrade and refused to secure the funding for it. Instead, previous County Commissions did all Platte Countians a disservice by lowering the property tax levy to its paltry one cent. This has not only cut into day-to-day operations, but has left the current Commission trying to figure out how most of that $10 million is going to be paid. The second story details a facilities study conducted by the City of Platte City that tells anyone paying attention what they already knew — Platte City’s three main public facilities are old, older and oldest. The Civic Center’s main structure has been sitting on that hill for more than 100 years, is plagued by environmental issues that forced the PCPD to relocate to an office the size of my bedroom and doesn’t even have a basic ADA-mandated elevator. City Hall is in pretty good shape, but who remembers that it used to be the post office? I do and it was built circa 1962. The afore-mentioned facilities study projects that no matter whether the City maintains and renovates what it has or builds new facilities, the price tag will run in the millions of dollars the next 20 years. So, the question is: does the City continue to maintain what it has and get by? Or does it build new facilities or even — gasp — consolidate all its facilities into one big complex? City Administrator DJ Gehrt says the City can certainly maintain most of the facilities and continue to provide City services in the affordable and efficient manner they are committed to. The Civic Center is more or less a lost cause, however, at least as it pertains to municipal government usage such as the PCPD. It would simply cost more to renovate it than its worth. If the truth be told, the City has been throwing good money after bad in recent years in maintaining the Civic Center and now has about $1.7 million (including the initial purchase price) invested in the historic structure. Gehrt said the best usage for the Civic Center would be in the private sector. So, where does the PCPD go? They can’t stay where they’re at, at least not indefinitely. There are many such questions, but really it can all be boiled down to this: does the City just continue to apply band aids and do enough to get by or does it get proactive? Gehrt said taxpayers need to help answer that question and that is certainly true — after all, it’s our money. Remember, we live in a less-than-ideal world and pay taxes for such things. So, if I get a say, here it is: I don’t want my money to be spent on buildings older than the Rolling Stones —do you? Thanks for reading.
Lee Stubbs is owner/publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 858-5154. Follow him on Twitter @leejstubbs.