The Caroline County Board of Supervisors meet once or twice a month. Much of what is decided there effects your life, your taxes, your commute, your economy, where you shop and what types of businesses come to the county in the first place. These are not trivial or boring meetings. In fact, on occasion, they can be intellectually stimulating and philosophically significant.
Two issues before the Board of Supervisors this evening involved our schools and our local charities. The PTA at Lewis and Clark elementary, in Ladysmith, has raised money to purchase tablets for students at their school. This was not spontaneous by any means, as parents have been trying to get the Board of Education to invest in tablets county wide for some time now, but in Ladysmith, parents have taken it upon themselves to raise the funds to press the issue.
Belmont Supervisor Floyd Thomas quickly responded that parents at one school raising money for tablets would give students in Ladysmith an unfair academic advantage over other schools, creating an educational disparity between schools in Caroline County. Western Caroline Supervisor Jeff Black responded by noting that it was not the Board of Supervisors job to get involved in objecting to parents raising money for school supplies if they organized and raised that money themselves – that any objection would be “government overreach”.
Mr. Thomas explained that he understands that it is not the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors to get involved in how parents raise money or how schools spend that money, but that he is still troubled by the disparity such an advantage would provide in one third of the school district. What about the other two thirds? Mr. Thomas pointed out that there are PTA’s in Northern Virginia that could raise $100,000 for their students, while Caroline County couldn’t raise $100,000 if every PTA at every school in the county tried to do so. If affluent areas in the county are raising money for supplies that poorer areas in the county cannot, then students in the wealthier areas of Caroline will have better opportunities than the poorer regions. For Mr. Thomas, the disparity is what troubled him.
Madison District Supervisor Clay Forehand argued that requiring county wide equalization of resources would disenfranchise the parents who spent the time organizing the effort to raise the money for a specific purpose, and questioned whether or not that is a lesson and example this Board desired to set.
Mr. Thomas again agreed that he did not want to disenfranchise anyone, but that all the schools should still somehow have equitable opportunities across the county.
In this case, the government did not “overreach” and the funds were released.
The next item on the agenda was a request by Western Caroline Supervisor Jeff Black to use county funds to support one of the most exciting and productive charity drives in Caroline County – the annual Polar Plunge. The annual Polar Plunge raises anywhere from 8 to 20 thousand dollars for local charities in Caroline County and has received a great deal of positive column inches in the state press. Mr. Black requested that Caroline County spend funds “not to exceed $2,000 pending an agreement between the county” and whomever puts on the event.
Mr. Thomas asked if this was not yet another example of “government overreach”. The Polar Plunge charity drive has been operating for years with churches, communities, and individuals supporting it; why should the government be stepping in to subsidize a program which is already functional? Reedy Church Supervisor Reggie Underwood agreed, questioning what legitimate role county government had in a private charity drive.
Mr. Black did not utter the word ” Touché “, but may have well have done so. Quickly getting back to the objective, Mr. Black explained that the Polar Plunge ought to be considered a county event raising money for county charities and that there are many county events sponsored by the county. Which is true. Mr. Thomas acknowledged that this was the case, but again brought the issue back to whether or not this was government overreach, arguing that he considers Schools to also be a “county event”.
Port Royal Supervisor Nancy Long, chiming in with the evenings dose of pragmatism, cutting the discussion down to the bare essentials, argued that if the county spent a very little bit of money in order to help raise a very large amount of money for local charities focused on providing food, heat, and shelter to local Caroline Residents, then it sounds like a pretty good investment to her. (And who could disagree?)
Mr. Black’s proposal and government overreach passed 4 to 2, with Mr. Reggie Underwood and Mr. Floyd Thomas voting against. Their vote was not an objection to the Polar Plunge or the charities involved, but rather a vote on principle.
An Editorial Note
While I disagree with Mr. Thomas’ suggestion that one PTA raising money for one set of school supplies is a problem because it creates some arbitrary disparity, and while I applaud the parents and PTA for their commitment to providing their children with the best school supplies they can afford – I am in 100% agreement with Mr. Thomas that Tablets and Technology are paramount to education in Caroline County. I am not ignorant of some of the problems tablets and technology present to a rural community – but technology isn’t the future. It’s the present. It should be a priority for our Board of Education.
However, in the free market, whether we like it or not, the wealthy are always the first to overpay for technology. Whatever the parents and PTA spend today on tablets and technology increases demand for the product. This demand will be met with an increased supply. Tablets and other technologies are not predicated upon limited or constrained resources. As demand increases, companies will look to increase their supply greater than the demand, in order to meet that demand at a moments notice. When this happens, supply eventually begins to dramatically overshadow the demand and prices begin to fall. We see this with every piece of technology.
Laptops, Desktops, High Definition Televisions, and Smartphones all began as products that the average working class could not afford. The wealthy, taking a risk on the technology and anxious to stay ahead, purchased these products at obscenely high prices driving companies to produce more and more products, increasingly the supply, and causing prices to drop to a cost that the less wealthy could afford. In economics, as in life, those willing to take risks and invest create the level of demand necessary for mass production. Mass production makes whatever is being produced more affordable. This is the way things are. Disparity is utterly beside the point.
With regard to county subsidies for county events and charity drives. I do not believe that the county has any business subsidizing charities. Mr. Thomas pointed out that $2,000 to aid local charity events is, of course, not a big deal and is definitely a good thing, but that if the board is going to object to government overreach in pursuit of an arbitrary standard of technological equalization throughout our schools, then the same principles ought to apply to everything else – and I agree.
I would prefer to begin a massive county wide fundraising movement to raise money for the Polar Plunge, than have Caroline County subsidize it. $2,000 dollars being spent out of our county fun money isn’t a big deal – but how many charities do we have in Caroline County? How many charity drives do we have? Are we going to give every charity event in the county $2,000? Won’t that add up?
I completely agree with Mr. Black that the Polar Plunge is one of the best charity drives and annual events we have here in Caroline County and I don’t want to see it go away due to expenses; but we should never lose sight of principles in government.
What I witnessed tonight at our Board of Supervisors Meeting was a thoughtful and intellectual discussion on the role of government in our county – and that excites me. Every member on our board had thoughtful and intelligent things to say in pursuit of their desire to make the lives of Caroline County residents better – and that is a great encouragement to me, as a resident of this county. I cannot help but agree with Mrs. Long, Mr. Black, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Underwood, and Mr. Forehand, that government overreach is a problem and should be opposed.