Community

Digging trenches a waste of money

There is absolutely nothing wrong with sprucing up for company.

Everyone should want to sweep away cobwebs, to mow the lawn, to wash the car just so our visitors will know we made an extra effort to be hospitable and welcoming.

I get it.

But there is something naggingly unsettling about spending more money than we have to put that "best foot" forward. It's like installing an in-ground pool with money set aside for college tuition. It's not a prudent use of our dollars.

Mary Lassiter, the state budget director, just issued a warning that state officials have said we have an $82 million revenue shortfall and that many state agencies will be asked to cut their budgets another 4 percent.

That's what bothers me about the funds the state came up with to put utility lines underground when overhead lines are far cheaper, although less aesthetic. An estimate of the cost of burying lines is about $475 a linear foot. The old-fashioned way is $35 a foot.

Why are we even considering spending so much extra money in these economic times?

Burying the lines will increase the cost of the project by hundreds of thousands of dollars, the closest estimate anyone is willing to make.

We have a contingency fund that can handle that? It seems we do.

The contingency fund at the state Department of Transportation contains about $30 million, according to Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the cabinet's office of public affairs. Some $24.5 million can be used at the discretion of the transportation secretary. "By definition, that fund is for any unanticipated needs that may pop up," Wolfe said.

Why couldn't the money in that fund that is being robbed to pay for underground utilities be used to improve roads in the rural stretches of Kentucky? Maybe some of the money could go toward buying more salt or more trucks to deliver salt to roads that are habitually closed to school buses in our mountain regions.

I'm sure some people think getting better roads in the mountains would be considered unanticipated.

Right now, we don't even know just how much money the change of plans is going to cost. So I called around to see whether I could zero in on a cost. I found more questions than answers.

Underground lines are pretty much a given in new subdivisions that are built on green space. No one knows what engineers might run into as they try to bury lines in the inner city.

We also don't know how much it would cost to circumvent any surprises found.

Plus, will we have above-ground power lines on Newtown Pike north of Main Street and underground to the south? How does that work out?

How can we taxpayers — especially those of us who scream when we hear someone is feeding their family with food stamps or living in government-subsidized housing — stay silent when our money will go to digging very expensive trenches?

I have friends who are entering their second year of unemployment. And there are bright young people out there who can't make school loans and parental input stretch far enough to pay for tuition.

None of those problems could have been solved by the department of transportation's contingency funds, which must be used for road projects. Government policy demands departmental pots of gold have dedicated targets.

I get that, too.

But we are in very difficult times. We all know that. So why not be better stewards of our money?

Most households have had to rein in spending, draw back on plans, adjust. Would the Newtown Pike extension have been that bad with utility poles along it just as they are along the rest of Newtown Pike? Would that new stretch be such a turnoff to visitors that they go back overseas flabbergasted?

Please.

So be it. We will spend hundreds of thousands of extra dollars to hide power lines and look lovely.

Later on, when money is too tight to fund higher education or shore up the finances of the unemployed who are losing their homes, don't say there's no money to be found. We won't believe you now since we've seen you draw this money out of a hat.

Our government can sometimes be perceived as picking and choosing the programs or projects it deems worthy of funding. Sometimes — too many times — those choices don't go in favor of the voiceless.

We get that, but I don't think our government does.

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