I’ve been knowledgeable about the inner workings in the city building downtown since being assigned as the City Hall reporter in my first newspaper job at the News Virginian in 1997. Among the first things that I had to report on was our understaffed, underpaid police force that was always losing officers to neighboring departments that paid more.
The issue isn’t that Waynesboro doesn’t respect its duty to the taxpayers who pay its bills to give them an adequately paid police force; it’s that Waynesboro does everything on the cheap, from emergency services to education to you name it, we do it with spit and tape.
It’s a credit to the people on whose backs the city balances its books that we get more than adequate services for our dollars. But that said, I can’t tell you how many people in important jobs in city government, in emergency services and other offices, moonlight in other jobs, including service-sector jobs, to make ends meet. So not only are they overworked from the perspective of their city duties, but then they have to schlep food and drinks and assorted retail goods to pay the rent.
And we call this fiscal conservatism here in these parts. The city manager, Mike Hamp, proposes a modest tax increase to fully staff the police department, and he’s treated as a socialist leper, because the police can do without being fully staffed, given that they’ve been that way for so long that really, when you think about it, they are fully staffed.
To the credit of those who don’t hew to the idea that we all have to live the way senior citizens who live on fixed incomes tell us we have to live, there are plenty of good things going on in Waynesboro, from the ongoing effort to breathe new life into downtown to the projects to renovate the Wayne Theatre and build a new natural history museum and even something as simple and yet elegant as our two-time defending Valley League champion Waynesboro Generals, a fine community effort if I ever saw one.
None of that is cheap, though the talk about fixed incomes and fiscal conservatism is, in the form of so much bad politics from the ‘90s and the ‘Aughts that put us in the mess that some call the Great Recession that we’re only now getting past us.
Nothing that’s worth anything comes cheap, either in terms of money or time. A good school system isn’t something that you can do cheap; good fire protection isn’t done on the cheap; and good policing from a department that has enough manpower to get the job done without fraying at the seams doesn’t come cheap.
That this isn’t anything new about our city means it won’t be easy for us to overcome our cheapskate nature.
I don’t claim to have the answer as to how to get things to change. I just know that it’s past time that the spit and tape era of governance in Waynesboro comes to an end.
– Column by Chris Graham