by Rick Longsworth
Last month the story City to preserve some historic brick streets appeared in the News-Sentinel. After reading the story I tweeted a link to the story with my comment that as a city taxpayer and as one who drives on these brick streets I find it hard to buy any argument that this is a good way to spend our local tax dollars. A short time later a follow-up comment appeared on Twitter asking this question.
What other form of street pavement lasts over 100 years, adds as much character, and encourages reinvestment?
I have reflected on this for some weeks and I am still not buying brick streets or the arguments supporting them. Count me among those who still suffer from the sticker shock. The story quotes a study in which it is claimed that brick streets last from 50 to 100 years compared to asphalt streets that last an average of just 18 years. But given that brick streets cost about 10 times as much as asphalt streets, I am still looking for the return on investment that makes that increased cost tolerable.
Claims that brick streets add character are solely in the eye of the beholder and are too subjective for me. I fail to recognize that character while driving down brick streets that challenge my car's shocks every inch of the way. I also question the claim that it encourages reinvestment. How is that quantified? Reinvestment that is proven to occur and not just encouraged would be nice, but I don't know that either is really quantifiable. If brick streets are such a great investment, shouldn't we do all our streets in brick and forget asphalt altogether?
So I remain a city taxpayer who is skeptical of a public policy that requires a higher expenditure of our tax dollars because a group of citizens or business owners has lobbied city officials to use more of our money to make them feel good about having a brick street because that is the way things were done a century ago so it is more esthetically pleasing to them.
This is really a local example of the national debate now in progress that will eventually be resolved either by regaining some fiscal sanity or by bankrupting our governmental entities. We rely on our government for common defense and safety. Beyond that we are continually in debate about using more or less public money for what is described as the common good. But what is the common good is a very subjective matter open to individual interpretation. In this case officials have decided that they should spend some of the money that I earned before I was required to pay it in taxes for brick streets instead of cheaper asphalt. I remain unconvinced that this is good use of local tax dollars when every governmental entity is struggling to find adequate funding for a lot more important needs and issues.