My home state offers a useful bellwether to Minnesotans who wonder how those "leave us alone" low tax policies will work out if the GOP actually gets a chance to fulfill its promises. Colorado Springs has gotten most of the attention lately for cutting city services and seeing its city manager resign after only two years on the job, but the tea party mentality is strong on the western side of the state, too.
The latest is this story about Mesa County planning to cut back on services to certain communities that declined to be annexed into the city of Grand Junction. More accurately, not enough property owners representing enough acres in the communities of Clifton and Fruitvale signed a petition requesting annexation.
The details might not make sense in Minnesota, especially in the metro, where counties largely overlap with incorporated cities. Out here, there are plenty of unincorporated areas within the "metro" of the Grand Valley, along with plenty of property owners who want a rural lifestyle (heavy equipment, junked cars and horses in the yard) along with city-style law enforcement and emergency services.
When the annexation fell through, the conservative county commissioners said, you want rural, we'll give you rural! (And they showed that it's not just liberal city governments that end up threatening to cut law enforcement when their budgets shrink.)
The sheriff, who is elected but has his budget approved by the commissioners, is caught in the middle.
His department is the primary law enforcement agency for an area that's about two-thirds the size of Connecticut. They have to cover some rural, remote and rugged country, but also a patchwork of suburban and exurban communities. The area in question has about 18 percent of the county's population and accounts for roughly 40 percent of the department's calls.
The sheriff, a Republican, says he can't selectively pull back enforcement in some parts of the county and provide a different level of service in the more upscale areas.
"It’s one thing to not put a sidewalk in. But if you weren’t to provide law-enforcement services, that criminal element or apathy gains a foothold. And there are no guarantees that apathy or the criminal element stays in that neighborhood.
“We have to hold the line in order to keep this entire county a good place to live.”
Good for the sheriff.
As for the county board members making noises about reducing services, I feel their pain. But not very much, because they are among the small government conservatives who helped create the idea that government and local communities can get along just fine with lower taxes.