Letter: Thoughts on music center, taxes and public input

To the editor:

A week or two ago, Mike Laros wrote a letter about the new Brown County Music Center. I’m assuming this may have been more of a response to a discussion at a county council meeting. To clarify what I heard of the points being made in council discussions and other places, I’d offer some thoughts.

One of the complaints was that the Brown County Community Foundation would receive a part of the profits from the center, with part of the rationale being to help fund the Brown County Playhouse. The logic I’ve heard in this is that they must do it because the foundation, as part of their mission, can fund entities like the Playhouse. The county government can, and does, fund entities like that on a regular basis. Going through a separate organization isn’t necessary. If a county official wants to verify that for me, please do. That kind of funding happened when I was a commissioner.

Another discussion was that the tax funds used for the center were from “taxes paid by tourists, not county residents.” We are left to assume, then, that those of us in the county, as county taxpayers, should neither worry nor need to feel responsible for the use of those taxes. This argument has been put forth before and it’s a red herring. The taxes involved are “tourism taxes,” that is true, and they are paid by those who visit. The county, however, often (if not most of the time) receives funds from the state and the county, then allocates them. So where they “come from” is lost — and it’s hardly the point. Are we not to be good stewards of all taxes? Isn’t that a primary job of government and not private organizations? If we follow this logic, then much of what is done in the county — schools, grants, economic development, etc. — should not be managed by county officials.

Speaking of stewardship, the discussion that the foundation should not be managing the profits did not center around whose mission it is to pay for appropriate needs for the county. It was that foundation members are not elected, and the mood in that discussion was that a project being funded by taxes should be managed by elected officials who are accountable to people through elections. That is common sense and good government.

The council meeting was also characterized by confusion. The council seemed to have insufficient information about the center. That is something I assume they will rectify since they, as well as the commissioners, are responsible for appointing boards that are setting up and running the center. Sometimes I know our county folks are not as plugged in as they need to be. There were times I wasn’t. This and other observations lead some people to say we need to operate on things like the center “outside of government,” which leads to some pretty dangerous behaviors.

My challenge back is that if you want better government, then run for office. And if you are in office and involved, it’s your job to make sure all of your board is informed and helping make the right decisions — and you need your taxpayers behind you.

The county council is asking for more information, and more recently, Bruce Gould wrote an article asking for input. That’s good, but we are getting late in this process to be regrouping with needed board discussions and involving the public.

Bill Austin, Brown County

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