12/4/07

Roanoke's checkbook.

We are gifted to have such a diligent Council, ready and waiting to pay out money for whatever it wants. Unless the Police want it. Or the Fire Department. Or, well.. unless it's the City Manager or the Council - the book stays closed. Our own civil servants need to apply for grants to get funding for certain needed items. Our public buildings are falling to shambles. Even the Municipal Building is creaking away, plagued with problems and pestilence. Back in the 20th Century, the firemen of Roanoke's FD paid for all their own equipment, to the point where they would do repairs to the fire fighting apparatus (read: fire trucks). In 1935, the Roanoke Fire Fighters decided to start the 'Roanoke Virginia Firemen Federal Credit Union,' to offset the high cost ($500) for all the equipment they needed for the job. With the opening of the new Station 1, the old 1 has seen little beyond a good sweeping and a light bulb or two. Forget it if a pipe should bust, or the roof leak - you might as well just grab the duct tape and pray a lot.

Old Firehouse #6 (the other historic fire station in Roanoke), which the city bought in 1910 for the princely sum of $1,050, has for lack of a better word, been destroyed by the lack of maintenance by the City. Aside from a major boiler bust which makes the basement look like wreckage from the Titanic (once you begin to descend the cast iron spiral stairway, an antique in itself), there's a lovely bunch of water & damage from it - all due to the brilliant strategy of using a piece of plywood to block rainwater and air conditioner drip from a low window. And the damage is major. Several times the basement has had to be pumped out due to standing water over a foot deep. Contractors have said the basement will never really dry out, and the foundation is possibly damaged because of the "lack of repairs."

Is this a problem limited to this one lone firehouse in Southeast? If you have followed the city's recent Parks & Rec news then you would know it has not. Villa Heights, Buena Vista, Mountain View. All places which cost the city nearly nothing - but the city ignored the basics of Home Maintenance and cost itself dearly. On the other hand, for items which the Council itself directly uses. Like SUV's - 3 of them. Long distance towing services? Not a problem. Heavy bodywork and repair to said SUV? No problem. Artwork to hang in Council chambers, or the managers office? Well - we don't have a Picasso yet, but we are getting there. The Roanoke City "Municipal" Art collection contains some outstanding works - the appraised value of the collection must be a nice number. I am sure on any public market the collection would fetch a tidy sum. And no, not all of the works were "donated." But still, the City Council has to show something for it's spending. Right?

Well - put that question to a certain recent city employee, with a heck of a nice salary, who does not even live in Roanoke. The job in question is one with no quantifiable result. There is no set goal, no actual result. It's more of a "feel good" idea for the city. Imagine that, having a job where all you have to do is make a city you don't live in feel like it's doing something. And you don't even have to convince the whole city either. Just a very small portion of it. You get to make good money, organize events as you wish, play with new technology, and never have to show hard proof. But it makes the Council feel like they are doing something, and they can turn to the citizens (who will understand the illusion even less) and say "Look, we are doing something."

So what can we, the citizens, actually see real money being spent on? Studies. Consultants. Infrastructure, in certain regards. Oh, and let's not forget the $880,000 going to the (former) Grand Building so it can become apartments. But all that money thats going towards consultants and such, could it not be better spent on.. oh - I don't know. More police? Improved streets? Lower taxes? Improving the schools??? Well, perhaps in a different city, with a more intelligent council that actually gives a rat's ass - but it's best not to engage in pipe dreams.

Ever think maybe the citizens could ask to see the checkbook? I think we can, and should.


1 comment:

Valerie said...

Check out what Councilman Lea talked about today at his announcement on my blog. Just this subject ... Charlottesville's budget ...