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Editorial - A necessary debate

June 13, 1997

What do citizens want from government, and should the amount of service they get depend on whether they're well-off or poor?

The question came to mind last week after Washington County recreation officials revealed that attendance at a county summer day camp program has dropped by 90 percent since the county began charging fees three years ago.

In 1994, 1,100 kids participated at 12 sites. Then the county added a $12 fee and attendance dropped to 833 youngsters and three sites were cut. Last year, when the fee jumped to $36, only 519 youths attended camps at eight sites.

This year the fee has gone up to $90 per child for the six-week program. So far, only 170 youngsters have signed up, and county officials are talking about cutting two more sites, in Funkstown and Hancock.

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Here's the puzzle: When the program was free and subsidized by county government, many parents were very happy to have their children participate. And yet while fees have more than tripled in the last three years, there hasn't been one single letter of protest to this newspaper.

If the program is so bad that it doesn't matter whether it continues or not, someone should be arguing against spending one more dime of county money on it. If it's a good program worth saving, someone should be making the argument that it shouldn't cost $90 per child to attend. Love it or hate it, speak up, for goodness' sake!

Even the childless among us ought to be asking themselves whether it makes sense, even if their parents don't care, for kids to spend their summer parked in front of everybody's cheapest babysitter - the TV - instead of participating in organized activities outside.

Then after that, think about this one: Is it fair for a government funded with everyone's tax dollars to provide a service that's available only to citizens on the upper end of the income scale? These are questions that demand discussion and debate, which citizens have so far failed to provide.

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