If you crawl up the mountain of bad economic news from border to border and peer carefully over the top, what you’ll see in the next valley are tax increases. Lots of ‘em. Local, state, federal and everyplace where public debt is piling up. Higher taxes are coming, election year pledges from your friendly neighborhood politician not to let that happen notwithstanding. It’s gonna happen.

We’ve seen the sneakiest of these begin to worm their ways into our family budgets. Fees they’re called. Want your kids to play football, play in the band or participate in many organized public school activities? Dig deeper for larger “fees.” College costs up this year. New or higher fees? Been to a National Park lately? New charges on your credit card bills? How about the monthly utility statement? A dollar here; a few pennies there?

“Oh,” we’re told, “fees and taxes are very different.” And, in fact, they are. There are distinct legal definitions. “Fee increases are just caused by the higher cost of doing business,” we’re told. And they usually are.

But when you’re paying the monthly bills, and you’re got bills left after the money runs out, legal definition be damned. Fees and taxes hit us payees just the same.

I’m certainly not condemning anyone’s city council, county commissions or even the fine folk in the legislature. None of them want to add to the financial burdens we’re already carrying. But they will. They’ve kept their fingers in the holes in the budgetary dikes as long as they can. They’ve trimmed and cut with honest intent. But when local communities in this country begin ripping out paved streets because they can’t afford to maintain ‘em, government backs are securely against the budgetary wall and taxes will go up. When you selectively turn off street lights to lower the municipal electric bill, what’s next? Taxes will go up.

Now about here some will think I’ve gone ‘round a mental curve and fallen off the track. But I’m serious. Very.

Does Oregon … or any other state … need all the counties it currently has? I’ve long wondered why we don’t make changes in our laws so counties like Moro or Harney – with hundreds of thousands of square miles and so few people – don’t have to support, with a much smaller tax base, all the same government offices as Multnomah which is basically Portland. Can’t we have multiple county prosecutors? Clerks? Assessors? How about merging some counties?

Does Douglas County … or any other … need all the school districts it has? Is it time to get over long-passed high school sports rivalries and talk about consolidation of some of these things? Do we have to have 10-15 school superintendents in a county and all the support staff and duplicate overhead? Can’t we have just one with local deputies or even a principal or two with additional administrative duties in the smaller places like Glide or Brookings or Gold Hill? Now if you live in one of those little districts and don’t want to change, fine with me. But how much more tax load do you want to carry for the sake of local ego?

How about courts? Aren’t there ways to streamline or combine some of them? Road districts. Same thing. Why do some cities have their own vehicle repair shops just down the road from the county shops? Why can’t city and county parks departments be run out of the same office? If we can combine planning staffs and their duties, what makes the rest so different?

Now all of that may seem like fanciful thinking. But I call it “economical” thinking and “realistic” thinking when government entities are being pressed as hard as they are now. ‘Cause that means we taxpayers are going to get pressed. Much harder. I realize some of these ideas would even necessitate a change in the state constitution or a few laws. So what?

These thoughts will probably generate feedback saying “Oh, we can’t do this or that because of this or that.” Such thinking about change always does. But how long do we keep doing what we’ve been doing and expect different … and less costly … results?

I don’t mind paying my fair share. But doing so gives me the absolute right to raise questions and demand some 21st century thinking. We’re still largely running the administration of Oregon and its subdistricts as it was organized 150 years ago.

NOTE: Hybrids have replaced buggy whips and Twitter and Facebook have replaced the quill pen.

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