Indulge me for a minute and read today’s editorial one more time. Only this time, insert the word “Decatur” every time it says Illinois.
Does it still ring true?
Obviously, there are some differences. Decatur leaders are much more upfront about what they want to accomplish and the jobs, both elected and nonelected, aren’t cushy, by any means. Most of them receive little or no pay, and you have to admire the folks who run for the privilege of spending additional hours for basically no compensation.
Another clear difference is that while Decatur area taxpayers pay for too many layers of government, the fundamental structure can’t be changed locally. That has to happen at the state level.
But the area has lost a lot of jobs in recent years, and the population continues to decline. Taxes in the area are higher than neighboring communities.
Job growth is elusive, although it’s fair to say that the blame for that rests more on the state than the local community. If businesses reject the state for relocation or expansion, then Decatur doesn’t have a chance.
But the basic question still remains: What are we as a community doing to reverse the decline?
A few weeks ago, the Herald & Review published another editorial suggesting that the various governmental units might want to study a more unified government. What would happen, just as an example, if the city of Decatur and Macon County government combined? What might happen if the park district were to join that group, or the county’s townships?
There are undoubtedly drawbacks to that idea, but there also could be significant savings. If consolidation would free up $5 million for local governments without a tax increase, would it be worth pursuing? So far, there has been no indication that any of the governments are willing to even talk about the idea. Right now, state law is a hindrance to consolidation, but laws can be changed.
It’s clear that taxpayers can no longer support the massive government we have in this state. Communities that take steps to resolve that issue are more inclined to prosper.
As those difficult issues are being tackled, the community needs to make positive moves that will make a difference. There is rightfully a good deal of excitement being generated by the project to change the Lake Decatur area in and around Nelson Park. Three general “concepts” have been proposed so far, and those can be viewed at this Web site: www.
decaturslakefront.com. The concepts are just that, and it’s possible that ideas from each will be incorporated into the final plan.
The final project probably will be completed in multiple phases over a period of years. Still, this project would be a clear sign that the community is moving forward. The lakefront would not only serve as a wonderful spot for community members but should also become a regional attraction for visitors.
I spend a good deal of time on Lake Decatur. Most people don’t realize what an asset it is to the community. If the community uses that asset wisely, it can contribute significantly to both our quality of life and our economic vitality.
The importance of the lake project is that it will show the community is moving forward in a big way, not sitting back and letting events dictate the future.
The avenue to growth and prosperity in the future is to pursue both options. Streamline government as much as possible to relieve the tax burden, while at the same time wisely investing dollars in projects that will make a huge difference in the future.