Friday, November 10, 2006

The virtues of facing community demands on time

A community's momentum can be measured in civic steps forward versus the steps it takes backward. This has been a good several weeks lately, with the forward steps well ahead.

The Blaine County criminal justice system, for example, has taken a giant leap forward by developing a drug court that effectively provides an alternative to imprisonment.

For first-time offenders, the Blaine drug court will offer an alternative to prison and a chance to change life's direction and avoid a criminal career and certain confinement for years and years.

Fifth District Court Judge Robert Elgee and a team of defense and prosecution attorneys as well as counselors have been training for opening day, probably in the spring.

The expected expense of $4,000 for each case in the drug court would be a substantial savings over the costs involved in prosecuting, defending and imprisoning a felon and dealing with interminable appeals that accompany every criminal case, not to mention saving a life otherwise wasted in incarceration.

Having taken that step forward, something of a step back was taken in Hailey, where a state law allowed 43 percent of the voters showing up at the polls to veto the support of 57 percent of the voters for a new fire station in Woodside.

This creature of the law—called a super majority—requires a two-thirds approval for a bond issue. So, put another way, a minority of the community decided against providing upgraded fire protection, and thus better insurance ratings for a fast-growing area of Hailey.

Quite the opposite occurred in Ketchum, where 80 percent of some 1,239 voters endorsed buying $1.5 million of new snow removal equipment to maintain the city's reputation for quickly cleared streets after heavy snowfalls.

Other steps forward were taken by the city of Bellevue in adopting a new affordable housing ordinance, and in Ketchum where the City Council—sitting as the Urban Renewal Agency—agreed to acquire downtown property as the nucleus of an affordable housing project.

Make no mistake, Blaine County and its various communities are on the move, facing demands that can't be avoided. Failing to promptly serve a growing population with services merely delays the day of reckoning.

Hovering over the whole area is the impact the expansion and improvement of state Highway 75 will have—possibly accelerating new development and thus creating a larger population.

A significant element in government's ability to foresee and meet those changing demands is the ability of civic political leaders to forewarn citizens and persuade them to join in supporting changes that stay comfortably ahead of crises.

So far, so good.

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