When I watch the Chanute City Commission argue about next year’s budget, my mind flashes back to when I visited this city four years ago to consider whether I wanted to move here. Governing style, tax policies, and budget issues didn’t really factor into my decision back then. I was more swayed by looking at parks, public amenities, community organizations, and places to eat and drink downtown. This is what tends to make potential visitors and residents decide whether or not they want to spend money in a community.

Some Commissioners aren’t thinking about the budgeting process in these terms. I understand that setting spending priorities in a turbulent economy in a way that will keep taxpaying residents happy represents a nearly impossible task. I certainly wouldn’t want to make such decisions, because I do not possess the personality to make those sometimes-ruthless cuts.

For instance, I could not personally stomach being involved with cutting city services like parks, the golf course, or the swimming pool. I also would rather avoid threatening the vitality of the city’s downtown. I certainly wouldn’t be on-board with approving spending cuts, while also expecting residents of the city to pay higher utility bills. Asking people to pay more to the city to get less from living in it isn’t a choice that I would be comfortable making.

I am too busy with my own irrational spending decisions to make them on behalf of the whole city. For instance, in the past year, I have spent far more on veterinary expenses racked up by my three cats than on health care for either my girlfriend or me. Last week, I paid $600 on a cat surgery just so it can continue to lazily lie around the house and eat on my dime in comfort. Paying so much money on medical care for an animal as perfectly impractical as the average housecat probably cannot be called a wise economic investment.

Going through this experience made me wonder if some of the current Commissioners have ever spent a lot of money on surgery for their pets. If they approach their personal lives in the same way as their Commission duties, they probably haven’t. If I had to have expensive surgery on my cat put to a vote by this Commission, I’m sure the costs involved would be heavily frowned upon. A few of the Commissioners would probably insist that putting down an animal with a whole catalog of health issues makes more financial sense than paying a skilled professional a great deal of money to fix them. This is especially true when the streets are chock full of other stray cats that could quickly be grabbed and claimed to replace any pet that is deemed to be in need of expensive veterinary repair.

Yet I would still vote for the surgery because I have developed a familiarity and an appreciation for my cat’s individual quirks, temperament and the affection that it willingly gives. Having a loving pet sit in my lap at moments where I might be sad and angry, or being able to laugh heartily when the cat does something ridiculous ultimately adds more to my life than budget statements or balance sheets ever have. Such moments are more valuable than money.

Having these particular pets around significantly improves the quality of my life, in much the same way that parks, a library, a golf course, a swimming pool, an art gallery, museums, community organizations, and a vital downtown all improve the lives of people in Chanute.  

Like pets, city-funded services may not seem like pragmatic economic investments when they are looked at on a budget spreadsheet. However, there are other ways to judge their worthiness – the memories they create, the good times they inspire, and the enrichment they provide to our lives. That may not be the most sensible metric to use in considering what non-essentials are worth paying for, but it is certainly the one that will ensure political popularity among citizens.

Those who ultimately want what’s best for the community should be willing to make the kinds of economic decisions that will keep it vital, comfortable, and alive, instead of just being content to let it die.

Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, offers to help balance my budget, or coupons for discounted veterinary services to brian@chanute.com.

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