For the week of April 21, 1999  thru April 27, 1999  

Little-noticed services make for a better way of life

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

If only by sheer coincidence, the secret of the late Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s irresistible political appeal hasn’t been lost on Wood River Valley governments.

Daley had an uncanny understanding of the public’s basic expectations, as simple as keeping street potholes filled.

Which prompts this tip of the hat to Wood River governments for what must be their most outstanding and omnipresent taxpayer-friendly service– snow removal.

Annoying as it may be in the pre-dawn darkness, the sounds of giant plows roaring down streets after a heavy snowfall are sounds of a community avoiding paralysis.

How big a job is it? In Ketchum alone, fully half of the city’s total annual streets budget ($500,000) was spent this year on clearing streets and parking areas, then storing mountains of snow in out-of-the-way places.

We sin mightily for taking this for granted. Imagine the consequence and utter chaos to the entire Wood River Valley were the cities, Blaine County and even state snow removal crews slow into action?

Paralysis would overtake the towns, as happens sometimes in urban areas. Some workers couldn’t reach jobs, schools would close, medical appointments couldn’t be kept. Much of the area’s economy simply would grind to a crawl.

It’s only a guess, but larger Snow Belt areas surely don’t spend half their street budgets on snow removal.

While on the subject, Ketchum’s free bus service is something else all of us should view with delight and pride, another of those "little" services that enriches quality of life.

Most of us are less taken by bigger-is-better. Instead, a lifestyle free of aggravation, and that’s safe and healthful is far preferred.

So much of what local government provides routinely-– prompt and reliable police and fire services, maintaining clean air and water, sensible use of public funds and, yes, efficient snow removal – are far more important to the human spirit than grandiose programs.

So, those "small" services such as snow removal really are big in a better way of life.

Murphy is the retired publisher of The Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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