Local Government 101

Without question, news reporters and editors are more familiar with local government than the average community member. But it’s still surprising, and disappointing, to see how confused some people are about the systems that supply cops, pave the roads, operate parks and, yes, collect taxes. (Especially disappointing when it seems like we are constantly writing on the topics.)

Case in point: Jackson County has made the news recently with details of the county government’s plans to retrench and make significant cuts in a variety of departments and services. The last week, the city of Medford, through its Urban Renewal Agency, reviewed plans to renovate Hawthorne Park as part of an effort to make it more family friendly and less of a hangout for transients.

Social media posters immediately pounced. Why, they asked, is the county cutting back on basics like sheriff’s deputies and support for 4-H, while the city is adding things dog parks and water features in a park?

This seems obvious, but maybe it’s not: The city and the county are two separate organizations, with separate budgets and separate services. While they may cooperate in some areas (emergency dispatch for instance) they are not likely — and certainly not obligated — to share funds if one or the other runs into financial difficulty. Beyond that, in the case of the Hawthorne Park plans, that is being funding largely, or perhaps entirely, by urban renewal dollars, which legally can’t be used for anything but the city’s urban renewal projects.

Some folks are quick to pounce at any hint of government waste and fraud or perceived excess. That’s fine, if it’s true. But they should at least understand the basic operations of government before they start pointing fingers.


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