[This article was adapted with the author's permission from a response to a NextDoor discussion here. Check the introductory post in that link for context]
During the past 10-15 years, Moraga has flipped from a "minimal government" philosophy that focused on providing the basics to a "fun, shiny and new" spending paradigm it cannot afford.
Now, residents are being asked for the second time in 5 years to pay "a la carte" for the basics (roads, storm drains) while their regular taxes are used to cover what has become an insatiable appetite for extracurricular activities.
Priorities and Focus Gone Awry, Costing Millions
The proposed storm drain tax is not so much about needing money as it is about the historic and present use/diversion of funds and misplaced priorities at town hall (pet projects = FUN!). Without having had the money for the "fun stuff," there has occurred a habitual redirection of money meant or needed for one basic-but-uninteresting thing to something bright and shiny instead.
Eyes Bigger Than Stomachs (and Wallets)
It seems to me that despite the claim of a “minimal government” town, during the past 10/15 years that notion has been tossed out the window. We used to at least stick to our knitting, but it’s turned into a “keep up with the Jones’” with Hacienda Hotel follies, multigenerational gyms and rec centers, poet laureates, brand new council chambers when the virtually-free JM auditorium sufficed, crazy roundabout explorations, fancy wayfinding sign studies, and other visions of grandiosity and grandeur.
Do-ers Have Been Supplanted by Talkers and Spenders
We used to have town managers who were FUNCTIONAL experts in something (planning, finance) handling operating activities in addition to being the chief administrator managing the staff. Since then, they’re just the latter. We’ve brought in town managers from larger cities who, instead of rolling up their sleeves, enable and assist the recent councils with all sorts of “big city fancy” we can neither afford nor which are consistent with the “minimal” philosophy.
Same issue with some of the director-level people: big city dreams in a small town, want fiefdoms and staffers, but can’t even fill a pothole, turn a wrench, build a playground, and thus spend time hiring and managing consultants to do their jobs for them instead.
Priorities Misplaced, Validation Engineered
Now, the town might say – when convenient – that residents “want” this stuff. But their most recent (bogus) “community priorities survey” that asked no questions about anything but storm drains says everyone with a brain thinks storm drains are a priority.
If that’s actually true, then isn’t it time to STOP spending like drunken sailors on all the other folly?
How can the town assert that residents want all that stuff they spend "regular income" on while simultaneously saying residents say storm drains are their highest priority? Both can’t be true. In fact, both are probably false
But, they never ask the question in a way to get a clear answer…because questions are always posed to get the answer THEY want: the town picks and chooses the studies, surveys and information that best suits the sitting council’s and current staff’s desires.
Thus, the “bright and shiny” focus endures, is preserved, and is perpetuated (at great cost) while the basics become “gotta tax you for that” a la carte items.
It’s all totally backwards, simple as that.