The decision by Parkersburg City Council to hold a special, non-binding election to find out how the people of Parkersburg feel about a proposed $2.50 user fee is among the strangest decisions I've ever heard that body make.
I say this for several reasons:
First, not all of the people who live in Parkersburg would have to pay the user fee. Only those who WORK in the city of Parkersburg would have to pay for it. So, many people, who may vote on the issue, would never have to pay it.
Conversely, people who live outside the city of Parkersburg but who work inside the city, will not have a vote in the special election, since they don't live in the city limits.
So you'll have people helping to decide the issue who would never have to pay the fee…and people who might have to pay the fee, not getting a chance to vote.
If the council members who support the fee are hoping this election will show overwhelming support for the measure, I'm afraid they're setting themselves up for a major disappointment. What large group of citizens, given the state of the economy, is going to say YES to a proposal to create a new user fee or tax?
Some, who understand the crunch that the city is in and who realize that the city has few options in terms of raising revenues, will support it. City residents who work for the city itself, will probably vote for it to try to save their jobs. But the vast majority of people are unlikely to vote for it.
But no matter what way the vote goes, it won't be binding. Council can go along with or ignore the results.
Let's say the user fee concept gets a majority of votes in the special election, which is unlikely. That may give council members the "cover" they need to vote for it, since they would then be able to say "it's the will of the people."
But if it a majority of voters say "no," what then? The city still faces a huge budget deficit fueled partly by the impending sale of St. Joseph's Hospital to a non-profit organization which will not have to pay business and occupational taxes. And now, the hole will be a bit deeper due to the cost of the special election.
In a pure democracy, the people would vote on every single issue, large and small.
We live in a representative democracy, or a republic, in which we elect people to make all of the decisions most of us are too busy to get involved in. We elect people, like city council-members, to make the tough decisions as well as the easy ones.
If council can't or won't force the city to tighten its belt any further than it already is, then council must make the tough decision to enact the user fee or other fees required to keep the city in a position to provide the necessary services.
No one forced the council members to run for office. This is the job they wanted. Now, it's time for them to do their job and face the music - good or bad.