Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thank You, Botetourt

The stars aligned last night as Jupiter and Venus shone out across a brilliant sky.

Inside the auditorium of Lord Botetourt High School, 500 people settled in for a lesson in numbers, economics, and finance.

Botetourt County faces a $3.6 million budget shortfall, and the supervisors have said no program is sacred. School athletics, libraries, senior programs - all are on the chopping block.

Thirty-seven people spoke, and the vast majority of those love the services the county provides.

It may not have been a love fest, exactly, but I was impressed. People love their libraries. They love their athletics. They love the walking trails. They love their schools.

They love this community. And they said so last night.

It was the first time in a very long time that I did not feel so alone in my desire to see the county - the country - move forward in a positive manner.

A few of the "no taxes" crowd showed up, the usual naysayers who seem able only to spew negativity and hatefulness these days. The audience basically turned their backs on them, moving on to private conversations while those folks ranted. But they listened attentively as others begged the supervisors not to cut their favorite programs.

Young men and women, juniors and seniors in the high schools, asked that the Governor's School be saved. One young man, who said high school athletics literally saved him, compared the county's situation to the one that FDR faced in the Great Depression.

"Save the humanity of this county," he said, his voice faltering.

One person threatened to move away if the schools cut programs. "I would rather pay more taxes than a real estate agent," he said.

Most heartbreaking were the pleas of several senior citizens. The county offers a senior van service, for a fee, that older residents use. For some, it is the only way they can get to the doctor or the grocery store.

Their voices broke as they stated their case, offering personal, heartfelt stories of need. Tears came to my eyes when one woman said the senior van was the only way her husband could receive dialysis three times a week; she can't take him because of her cancer. Others wiped at their cheeks, too.

This was, finally, a vision of democracy that I could relate to. I heard people saying yes, I want the rescue squad to come when I need it. Yes, please, fund the firefighters so my house won't burn down. Yes, give us good schools and good teachers. Yes, we want the libraries to stay open, filled with books and magazines. Yes, we love our parks and the recreation programs.

Yes, we want our county to move forward, to grow, to prosper. Yes, we know there is a community here, something greater than our individual selves.

Yes, it is worth preserving.

Thank God. It is worth preserving.

I don't know what the supervisors will do. Today they have budget meetings and the school board has meetings tomorrow. The schools, by law, must present a budget to the supervisors by April 1, and the state is still dancing about on its budget figures. Nothing is set in stone until the General Assembly is done.

The cuts still may come. The supervisors may say that they're sorry, but they aren't raising taxes - they are all conservative, after all, and they have only lowered taxes, not raised them - and the programs will be lost. I suspect if they do that, they will not be pleased with the public outcry.

I expect they will raise taxes. I don't know by how much. It may not be enough to save everything. The senior van program, at least the last year I looked at the budget, basically pays for itself and should be the last thing on the cutting block. Those poor old folks need that service and it would be cruel - inhuman, even - to take that from them. We should revere our elders, not make them feel a burden. They are the bones upon which we all stand.

Perhaps the supervisors will fund athletics and close the libraries. Perhaps they will find enough money to keep everything as well as they can, making trims and cuts here and there to an already-lean bone. If they go that route there will still be a loss of services but perhaps it will be bearable. Perhaps the nick will not go the marrow, leeching life.

Do not back down, Botetourt. Send emails, make phone calls. Let them know that this county is important. Let them know that you are paying attention, and that you believe in the greater good.

I am so proud of my fellow citizens for their actions last night. I am so pleased to know that you, too, love this county.

It feels good, this love.

6 comments:

  1. Bravo! Now, that is what I call citizenship. Not cutting taxes for "me", but ensuring needed services for "us"! And it seems a whole lot of people "get it". That is so positive, and such an example for us all.

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  2. Well-said, Anita! It's inspiring to read that there are still plenty of folks who care enough about their neighborhood and their neighbors to speak out. Here in North Carolina, the ultra-conservative General Assembly has already pushed through some terrible cuts, including completely eliminating the Governor's School. Some of the alumni got together and raised enough money to keep it going for another year, but I fear that it could be the last year for it. The Governor's School had a profound effect on Benjamin's life, and I am heartsick at seeing it eliminated in the name of lowering taxes.

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  3. You did such a wonderful job reporting! I hope you don't mind but I linked this post to my post for tomorrow about the meeting....if you would rather I didn't, just let me know and I'll take it off!

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  4. A very insightful post! I agree with you wholeheartedly!

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