Do we "need" it or "want" it?

Opinion

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Our current public finance problems are less the result of an "entitlement mentality" than they are your failure to distinguish "needs" from "wants," and recognize there's no such thing as a free lunch - or a free grant.

Riverside-Brookfield High School wants to reduce the electric bill by using part of the proceeds of a state grant for more efficient light fixtures. Good idea; we need lower costs. However, they also want to spend the change and some of the savings operating a new $41,000 electric sign along First Avenue.

But do we really need it? Are we marketing something for profit that requires distracting every passing motorist at a school crossing? The justification is that it's a "free" grant. But it's still tax money, something in such short supply that we're firing teachers. Shouldn't it be spent on something that we actually need?

District 96 wants to exhaust our tax reserves by installing central air in our grammar schools. Of course we need comfortable classrooms. But wouldn't it be more sensible to simply modify the school calendar? Why not just eliminate some of the holidays, start after Labor Day, and hold school when it's not so hot?

The Brookfield Library Board wants a new building so badly they're squandering all their tax reserves acquiring a new location, although they just refurbished the old one, and there's no way to finance the construction of a new one - except a tax hike. (Overdue book fines won't cover it.)

But do they really need it? In the Internet age, a bigger bricks-and-mortar library may be obsolete before it's built. Why not spend the reserves on a larger database accessed by people at home, and convert rooms with shelves into public meeting space?

The state wants to transfer responsibility for its under-funded teacher pension plan to local school boards. First the falling economy flattened house values, and now the state wants to pile on to raise our taxes and wipe out what's left. We don't need that. Our burden is already too heavy to bear.

It's time for all of you to recognize the difference between "needs" and "wants," and that there's only one source of funding - and we're already broke.

Terence M. Heuel
Riverside

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