From Congress to individual households, a huge part of setting priorities involves money.
In Washington’s case, if money is needed – which is the situation when helping Ray County and other places around the nation recover from disasters – Congress and President Trump authorize borrowing. They also borrow to pay for other line items that various Americans may or may not consider priorities, such as payments to farmers for tariff-related losses, food stamps, infrastructure, the military, immigration enforcement, rural broadband... Again, what Washington wants, Washington gets, because Washington can borrow without a repayment plan.
Everyday Missourians cannot borrow without a repayment plan. They make decisions based on what they can afford. Sometimes, the choice is as basic as whether they purchase diabetes medicine or pay the rent.
The same is true for small towns. Leaders set priorities based on what they can afford. They may, for example, have 20 miles of streets in need of resurfacing, a hole in the roof at city hall and four broken sewer lines. They cannot afford to do everything. So, they prioritize: The roof gets fixed, the sewer lines get fixed, but 19 of those 20 miles of streets have to wait another year.
Wood Heights is among communities that are forced to prioritize budget expenditures.
The community is small. City-Data.com puts the population at 687.
The community is not wealthy. The estimated per capita income is less than $26,000.
The community’s housing stock has a median value that is less than the state average. The median value of a house in Wood Heights is $134,780 versus the $151,400 for the state.
The Wood Heights Board of Alderman must work with a tight bottom line. There is no room for frills. There is no big population and no big businesses to share the tax burden. Aldermen have only so much money to spend on infrastructure, administration and public safety.
All of which gets down to what the city’s elected leaders consider most important. Do they put everything into infrastructure to the exclusion of administration and public safety? Do they put everything into administration, to the exclusion of infrastructure and public safety? What do they juggle or cut?
In May, the board decided to continue funding infrastructure and two administrative staff members, but disbanded the entire police department. At 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, the board is expected to revote on disbandment.
The city needs a police department. All cities do. But is that what residents want?
They should let aldermen know whether they want the board to reduce some of the administrative and/or infrastructure costs to provide police protection, or whether to back the status quo.
This is an important matter that could impact the city for decades. Residents should attend the meeting and speak up.