Doing Things Better Together

Talk about bad timing: Eight people who work for the city of St. Clairsville will lose their jobs on the day before Christmas. No doubt they’ve known for some time that the blow was coming, but that won’t make it any more palatable for them.

Here’s hoping the eight can land new positions soon.

All other things being equal, they ought to have an edge on many applicants for certain jobs, just because of what they’re doing now. The eight are emergency dispatchers for the city. Two are full-time. The other six are part-time.

There is little or no room for error in answering calls for help and sending police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians or other responders. Here’s hoping the dispatchers’ experience with that kind of pressure helps them find new jobs.

Now, for the good news: Steps such as that being taken by St. Clairsville are long overdue. They represent something of a change in how local government officials look at things.

In St. Clairsville, the decision was made to shut down the city dispatching service and rely on the county’s 911 center. Municipal officials believe the county will provide excellent service.

The change is expected to save the city about $200,000 a year. Part of that will be used to hire a new police officer. St. Clairsville residents should be safer as a result.

At least in news reports about the change, city officials don’t seem to have used the word that too frequently results in them being told to wash out their mouths with soap: consolidation. But that’s what is happening, and it’s long overdue.

Instead of insisting that the city has to have its own dispatching service, St. Clairsville officials have had the good sense to consolidate it with the county program.

Parochialism costs local taxpayers on both sides of the river millions of dollars a year, needlessly. Instead of spending it to ensure every town has its own this or that, the money could be used to improve services — and leave more money in taxpayers’ pockets.

Should Wheeling and Ohio County governments be separate? Should there be eight separate school districts in Belmont County? Wouldn’t it be better to have fewer than 55 school districts in West Virginia? Does it really make sense for towns near each other, even adjacent, to have separate water treatment plants?

Those are all dangerous questions, because of the public outcry — not to mention opposition from the political class — that occurs when they are asked.

It has been said members of Congress view Social Security as “the third rail of politics — touch it and you die.” The same thing is true of consolidation in local goverment and public education. Suggest it, and your political career may be over.

I’ll vouch for the danger. Several years ago, I dared to suggest some Belmont County school districts should be consolidated. If you think Al Franken has been called some nasty names recently, you should hear some of what was said about me. One woman simply could not believe it that I would suggest her town should not have its own high school football team.

What about education, I asked. Could consolidation improve it? High school football was more important, she replied.

Fortunately, attitudes are changing. More people are beginning to ask what’s best for the kids, for public safety, for reliable water service — and for taxpayers.

Think about it this way: What’s better — having two vehicles up on blocks in your yard and being able to say you’re a two-car family, or having one that runs well and doesn’t eat you alive in repair bills?

More and more local officials are beginning to look at it that way.

Until several years ago, the city of Wheeling and Ohio County maintained separate emergency dispatching centers. I’ve heard no complaints from the public about service from the consolidated 911 center.

It’s the wave of the future, folks. So, in a way, don’t look at St. Clairsville officials as the Grinch, but rather, as Santa Claus.

Myer can be reached at: