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Th e cost of opportunity

October 29, 2007 - Rob Weaver
Our editorial last week concerning renovation of the courthouse ("Courthouse restoration project always will come down to money") drew an equal number of responses from those who agreed and those who didn't.

Here's an interesting one of the latter:

I have been wondering why the Advertiser has failed to inform the people of Seneca County all the true behind the scenes happenings regarding the courthouse. Now I know. The Editorial of 10-25-07 was one of the most negative articles I have read in regards to preservation of historical landmarks. YES, preservation cost money, but to indicate that this would take money from education, bridges, senior services is absolutely ridiculous. The people of Seneca County did NOT vote to tear down by defeating the quarter-percent sales tax increase. The ballot never indicated the money would even be used for the restoration. The defeat certainly did not give the commissioners permission to tear down OUR courthouse. By the way, I voted for the increase and I am on a fixed income. The advertiser obviously supports the demolition of our historic landmark. SHAME ON YOU!! Marilou Hill

I assumed the writer, in the second paragraph, wasn't axpressing cynicism over state legislators' ability to spend tax revenue wisely. I would add that, not only would state funds spent on historic preservation be revenue that couldn't be spent on other public purposes, but every dollar in revenue collected from a taxpayer is a dollar that taxpayer can't choose to spend.

So here was my response:

Dear Mrs. Hill,

I disagree with your statement that state tax dollars spent on historic preservation would not take money from education, bridges, senior services.

As someone living on a fixed income, you surely understand the concept of "opportunity cost" -- the fact that money spent on one thing (say, a gallon of gas) cannot also be spent on another thing (for example, a pound of hamburger). If someone decides to spend their money on something such as a tankful of gasoline, they by default opt not to spend that same money on something else. For example, if a person had $3 in their pocket and decided to buy a gallon of gas for their lawnmower, that $3 could not be spent on a value meal at Arby's.

This same principle applies to the state government, which has a limited amount of taxpayer money available for any budgetary period. A dollar spent to renovate an historic building is a dollar that cannot be spent to buy a new computer for an elementary school pupil.

I, too, voted for the quarter-percent sales tax. Unfortunately, the majority of voters didn't agree with you and me. Next March, the voters may have a chance to reverse that decision. We'll see what happens.


Rob Weaver editor


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