by Mike Kroll
A few weeks ago this newspaper challenged the citizens of Galesburg and the surrounding area to "wake up" and start becoming part of the solution to this community's problems. Recognizing problems and deficiencies is indeed an essential first step toward making Galesburg a better place in which to live, but what is equally important is personally taking the next step as an active participant in addressing the identified problems. Since we ran that piece many have shared ideas with us (and one of the best of those ideas is featured in this week's issue) but I felt it was time for me to step up to the plate in at least a small way myself. What follows are some recommendations that I personally will work to help achieve, I invite you to join me.
Accompanying a softer economy are reduced financial resources to government coffers. This is true at all levels and can be seen reflected in the financial problems facing our city, county, schools, etc. The first reaction of local officials has been to reign in spending. My own political beliefs suggest that absolute worst time to reduce government services is when the economy is tanking. Such reductions simply put more downward pressure on community and prolong the period of economic uncertainty. While at cursory glance it would seem to be fiscally irresponsible to increase government investment (or even maintain current levels) when tax receipts are down I suggest that is exactly what must be done in Galesburg today.
The current situation is not the time for retrenchment, especially by the city of Galesburg that has enjoyed financial prosperity until very recently. Galesburg's tax and investment income is currently reduced but thanks to good financial management in recent past years both the city of Galesburg and School District 205 have reserves. At present the plans call for cost reductions and slowly drawing of these reserves to maintain essential services. In the short run this may appear fiscally prudent but in the long run what we give up today will certainly cost us much more to remedy "someday" when the economy turns around. These is an abundance of necessary capitol improvement/maintenance as well as social projects on hold that, if completed sooner, may well assist in the overall improvement of the local economy.
With unemployment creating a motivated workforce wouldn't now be a good time for the local equivalent of FDR's New Deal-type programs? Let's start with the schools. Why not begin a program of hiring a temporary local workforce to assist in completing many maintenance projects that are now on hold. Under the direction of the school district's permanent staff a whole lot of projects demands lots of labor but modest special skills can be tackled. Not only would this spruce up on schools but it would also help support otherwise unemployed workers and instill pride with no charity involved. And such work need not be restricted solely to academic facilities. Why not take this opportunity to address some of the problems with athletic facilities? Why not work to enhance the appearance of our schools with murals or landscaping? No doubt there are also skilled workers available who could be employed to assist teachers or supplement administrative tasks.
This exact same model could be applied to a wide range of city needs. Could not a crew of temporary workers help with maintenance and improvements to our city parks? Or provide additional staff to the recreation department to support a greatly expanded summertime program of supervised activities for school-age children? How about temporary city crews that could begin a positive program to cleanup and spruce up Galesburg's residential neighborhoods? Instead of expanding our property appearance and maintenance codes why not target areas of the city that need help and provide manpower and support assistance to accomplish the cleanup? This could involve both paid and volunteer workers supervised by permanent city employees. We could have roving litter patrols, painting brigades and yard work details.
While all such programs involve financial expense they simultaneously promise a wealth of returns. Necessary projects get completed sooner. People who might otherwise be forced to leave Galesburg get a helping hand while the city's aesthetics get a shot in the arm without prolonging the current disputes. Another thing the city can do to help cleanup this town without issuing more tickets is to increase the frequency of unlimited garbage pickup from twice a year to at least once every two months. There are many of us who remember when every garbage day was unlimited pickup and I'm not entirely sure the cost of returning to such a system would be prohibitive. Ditto for reinstatement of large brush pickup.
More of us need to get involved in the mundane business of running this community. Regardless of your personal politics, geography, social or economic status many more of us need to become involved in our community. All too often the same subset of individuals are serving on boards and commissions, volunteering for charity's and social service agencies or running for elective office. If we are to judge solely by present performance this small group badly needs help. I have always felt that the most valuable resource I can offer any good cause is my time and labor. In fact, I make it a personal rule not to offer financial aid to any organization that would not welcome a donation of my time instead. There are so many way each of us can contribute to this community other than through our wallets and I challenge you to do so.
If you do volunteer your time be sure you do so for the right reasons. This does not include "it looks good at work" or "it got my name in the paper" or "it will reflect well on my business." All of those things may be true but they should also be secondary or tertiary reasons for volunteering your time. The very best reason is that together we can help make this a more attractive and successful community. One that we can proudly leave as a legacy to our children and an incentive for future generations to continue the investment.