Hatfield: Why Can’t Government Distinguish between Wants and Needs?

May 25, 2015

Citizen Scoops

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A SIMPLE PRINCIPLE, TOO OFTEN FORGOTTEN

Elected officials at every level – municipal, county, state and federal – are constantly asked by constituents for something that they want government to deal with. Unfortunately, these officials attempt to do something before answering a very important question: Is the request a “want,” or is it a “need” that will benefit the majority of constituents? That question is seldom answered. Two cases in point:

In Beaufort County, where I live, our county council is about to vote on purchasing a large tract of land under our Rural and Critical Lands Program. The land is currently zoned rural, however, so it cannot be developed unless that same county council approves the change. Currently, the plan is for the county to purchase the land for millions of dollars and allow it to be developed by, to date, an unknown entity. The county, in other words, wishes to be in the development business.

Thus far the council’s attempts to do this elsewhere in the county have not been successful. At the same time, Beaufort County is facing a budget crunch; library hours are being cut among a host of other “needed” issues; and we’re being told that we will probably have a 2-percent property tax increase. Simply put, this example is the wrong idea at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or consider Hilton Head Island. Tourism, obviously, drives the economy on Hilton Head, and consequently when anyone expresses a “want” for anything that will enhance tourism, it’s usually approved.

Hilton Head Island has hundreds of homes, mostly in low income areas that do not have town sewage and instead have individual septic systems. So every time we have a heavy rain, which is quite common, these systems overflow and raw sewage covers the land. This problem has been known and thoroughly studied for over ten years. Yet little has been done to solve it.

Clearly, this is a “need.” We have a new mayor, David Bennett, who has put this at the top of his to-do list. But why wasn’t it done years ago?

We teach our children about “wants” versus “needs.” Why can’t we teach our government the same simple principle?

Tom Hatfield, of Hilton Head Island, is a Nerve Citizen Reporter. He is a founding board member of South Carolina’s first-in-the-nation Public Charter School District and is a member of the state Agency Head Salary Commission.

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