Things to come? R.I. city files for bankruptcy

August 20, 2011|By LLOYD WATERS

As I found myself reading the USA Today newspaper the other morning, one article caught my attention and I wondered if its story represented the future.

In Rhode Island, the town of Central Falls is filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Although the article suggested that municipal bankruptcies were rare in number it did mention several other jurisdictions.  

Jefferson County, Ala., and Harrisburg, Pa., our nearby neighbor, have also been exploring the possibilities of filing bankruptcy. The same article mentioned that Vallejo, Calif., which had filed for protection in 2008, is only now emerging from it and the process has cost that city millions of dollars.

Perhaps the most interesting thought is that at one time these same entities were functioning efficiently just like most other towns in America.  

What did they do, or fail to do, that has created so many problems for so many people today?  

Will bankruptcy be a new trend in our nation as cities and counties come to grips with a dwindling cash flow? Is it too far fetched to imagine a state filing for bankruptcy?

When I think about our own county, I read on the editorial page recently that we are in sound fiscal shape and there is no need to worry. As I read this opinion I hope the writer is more right than wrong.

The same article suggested we need a "vision." I agree, but it has to be one without blinders.

Our Washington County Commissioners meet on Tuesdays and although they have other agendas that sometimes are filled, I wonder exactly how much planning or problem solving gets done on  a one-day-a-week schedule.

If the federal government continues its economic meltdown, and that activity affects the state of Maryland, like it certainly will, I wonder if our county is really poised to take a look into the future and have a good plan for unexpected changes.

Some people believe that there is an adequate "vision" in place to take us to the higher ground and sustain any future economic hits while our unemployment in the area is higher than most other places in the state.

As I think about the 1,000 books one can put on a Kindle book reader and the ability to research any topic on a computer, one might question the wisdom of building new libraries in today's economic climate. Borders has already learned a lesson in this regard.

Post offices, too, failed to have a correct "vision" for the impact of computer emails, and because of that lack of vision some of them are now being closed.

Since the county utilized high assessment values as a reason to raise property taxes, wouldn't it now be fair to lower those taxes based on the current decreased value of homes?

If the state decides to move the teachers pensions down to a line item on the county's budget, what fiscal impact will that have on our county?

Is our county prepared to deal with the "what ifs" of the future, or will it be a management by crisis approach?

Perhaps the happenings in Central Falls and Harrisburg are anomalies, but they present good examples to study.

The old Chinese proverb, "to know the road ahead, ask the one who is coming back" might be good applicable advice. We can often learn from the mistakes of others.

I know everyone wants to blame the current economic calamity on the burst of the housing market bubble. I'm not so sure that is the total contributing factor.

Increased spending and other demands by local, state and federal governments might also be related areas of concern.

If we really are searching for the right "vision" to lead us down the road in these uncertain economic times, I think it behooves us to examine the potential problems of the future and practice a little prevention where we can.

My vision is a little different from those in politics — I think I'll keep it that way.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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