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Our View: Save money, expand local economy

Saturday's front-page stories may not seem to have much to do with one another, but with one exception they were all deeply interrelated. The lead story told about the budget shortfalls faced by the city and county while the article below it looked at public education budgets. The central story examined a new report that ranked Del Norte County near the bottom in the state for various education and health categories. A fourth article discussed how federal timber payments to Northern California and Oregon counties likely will be phased out.

The common thread through those stories is that we have far more needs than we can afford.

The council needs dollars to expand law enforcement, fund tourism promotion and to repair recreation facilities. The school district's and county's needs are obvious, given the low number of elementary students meeting state targets for language arts and math, and the number of children in low-income households.

Meanwhile, the proposed city budget is in the red $350,000-plus, and the county may raise fees to help make up its shortfall. The news for the years ahead doesn't look good for the school district or the county, either. If the federal government ends timber payments, both will be forced to make large spending cuts.

The current (and looming) budget crisis only demonstrates the need for more cooperative ventures between all three government bodies – city, county and school district – and the need for more coordination of economic development activities. Existing government costs have to be trimmed by making offices more efficient, and the best way to do that is to end duplication of services and efforts between them.

But that in itself only can go so far. In the long run, local governments must be committed to a joint effort that grows our economy. If we can increase the tax base by bringing more tourists and shoppers here to spend money, then the more outside dollars we'll have for our needs.

Beyond filling our governments' most basic functions, such as public safety, the priority for spending this year must be on expanding our economy. Infrastucture – such as roads, telecommunications, wastewater treatment and vocational education – that allows businesses to expand and tourism promotion are musts for next year's budgets.

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