Part of a series on my participation in the Putnam County Leadership Academy.
This past Wednesday, our PCLA 2020 group became a little more familiar with the myriad functions of government which are behind Greencastle and Putnam County.
Local government is about more than Democrats versus Republicans, or about people hating a city council's decision on such-and-such an issue. I think we all really got a valuable insight into the practical (as well as the idealistic) challenges our leaders face.
We first made a visit to Greencastle City Hall, where we heard a presentation from Mayor Bill Dory about what makes Greencastle stand out.
Dory described Greencastle as a "full-service community." This means that residents have the benefit of having fire and police personnel always available, in addition to agencies that are focused on economic development and public health.
However, he illustrated Greencastle as being akin to a senior citizen who is on a strict fixed income. The city's overall budget will never be fully funded.
Regardless of taxes, Greencastle residents will pay about $40 for water, sewer and trash. Compared to other municipalities, this expense is a real bargain.
(It is of note here that user fees, not tax dollars, go toward the city's utility operations.)
As to government itself, the Greencastle City Council is responsible for ordinances and passing budgets. The Board of Works is an appointed board that oversees fire, police and utilities, as well as makes recommendations to the council. Greencastle also has plan and redevelopment commissions, as well as both a park and a cemetery board.
Greencastle faces its own challenges. Dory said housing is a big one going forward, in line with retaining its workforce. However, this is not the city government's job. Local nonprofits, businesses, schools and community members have to pick up this growth.
Greencastle City Councilor Jake Widner -- who is part of the leadership academy -- said local government is "where the rubber meets the road." Both he and Dory agreed that people have to get issues to their attention. They all will not get fixed tomorrow, but they can be on the radar. It starts with that dialogue with your representatives.
We then went to the Putnam County Courthouse to meet Rick Woodall, who is the president of the county commissioners. He arrived from the feed center he owns on the south side of town (some of Indiana's largest murals were painted there).
Three commissioners represent the approximately 38,000 people who live in Putnam County. Woodall said his philosophy is that everyone votes for them; and as such, all three serve everyone.
Basically, the commissioners "run" the county with day-to-day operations and improvement projects. While the Putnam County Council sets the budget -- which recently amounted to a little less than $20,787,000 -- the commissioners have to make sure that this is all spent as efficiently as possible.
The two areas which predominantly make up the county's budget are local roads and the sheriff's department (including the Putnam County Jail), with each being allocated $6,300,00 and $4,700,000, respectively.
I think Woodall would not hesitate that deciding what roads need the most attention is the biggest challenge the commissioners face. After all, money doesn't grow on trees.
While the county must keep up the main roads which see thousands of vehicles, other projects sap the highway budget. Not being in Woodall's shoes here, we cannot fully appreciate that $110,000 may pave only one mile of road. Times that by at least 300.
The commissioners also look over various local agencies, which include the Putnam County Health Department and the courthouse. It's not about meeting once a month.
Being a commissioner is not a full-time job. Still, Woodall still may get three to four angry calls a day about this unpaved road or about this neighbor cutting down trees. Ultimately, he sees the commissioners and county offices at large as a "team concept."
Woodall was echoing Mayor Dory. Government is complex, and it takes ever-constant vigilance. That's why trying to be on the same page is crucial for them -- for all of us.