blank.gif (51 bytes) Rural Wrap
Can Only Taxpayers
Build a Park?

by Dan Steninger

year-end review of Elko-area happenings during 1998 rekindled attention over an embarrassing event that still has to be rectified. Early in the year, a few local residents began talking of enhancing the area along the river. Plans called for donations of money and labor to clean up the area and provide facilities to attract residents and visitors.

Well, not much more was heard about the project until September, when the city reported the project was stalled for various reasons—including the fact that the city could not obtain a handout from state and federal officials to construct a bicycle path.

Good for state and federal officials. Yes, yes: It was Elko’s money that was withheld from us—we sent it in to Washington, and the city was just trying to get a little back—but we’re not going to make much progress on reining in the central government when we encourage their redistributionist schemes by applying for federal grants for bicycle paths now, are we?

Should the city wish to make a statement concerning the theft of our tax dollars, it shouldn’t try to get those dollars back by applying for grants; it should pass an ordinance requiring local taxpayers to remit their federal levies to city hall. Then the council can determine how much of the loot should be forwarded for the legitimate functions of the central government—say, missile defense and the patent office—and return the rest. But that’s getting off the point.

Two possibilities come to mind regarding the sprucing up of that riverside. One, there will be enough local interest that it will get done with the time and money local residents have left after toiling for Uncle Sam. Two, it won’t get done.

A third option occurred to those within city hall: reapply for a handout. Some of us have been encouraging councilmen to abandon that demeaning approach.

This story out of New York City should help inspire some private activists—and public obstructionists—to consider unusual means toward public improvements.

One block off Times Square is Bryant Park, where 15 years ago few people not engaged in the criminal trades dared to venture. Of those who did, 10 of them were raped in an average year and 150 of them were robbed. Needless to say, the park was a financial drain on the taxpayers and provided them nothing—other than a haven for those who preyed upon them—in return.

By 1997, though, the criminals were gone and now up to 10,000 New Yorkers visit the park on a good summer day. Crime is reported to be near zero. What happened? Disgusted citizens wrested control of the park from the city government. A private corporation was allowed to lease the park and given the power to levy a nickle-a-foot tax on surrounding property owners as well as charge rent for new businesses within the park. Among those new businesses is the Bryant Park Grill, which is reported to be a smashing success, even after paying the corporation $700,000 a year in rent, or property tax, whatever they call it.

The park went from being a costly criminal habitat into a moneymaking amenity enjoyed by lots of folks looking for a little relaxation or participating in one of the 380 special events held each year.

Now, this is not to compare Elko city officials with pre-Giuliani NYC administrations; nor am I suggesting that the city should raise the taxes on everyone within sight of the river. But when New York City can turn a liability into an asset through private enterprise and profits, it points out that there is an alternative to groveling before the tax collectors in hopes of getting a little refund.

It’s an approach that would work for the city of Elko, trying to figure out a way to get a park built; for Southern Nevada, which is trying to come up with a better way to drive across the Colorado River; and for a lot of projects in between—the management of wildlife and public lands leaps to mind.

We need to quit limiting our efforts to build public improvements to which government agencies would be the best source of a grant, and start directing our thoughts toward ways a private entity might make a buck off that improvement. NJ

Dan Steninger is the editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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