Small Towns: The future sometimes looks bleak 2015.07.01

When Toledo Blade columnist Keith Burris spoke last week in Fayette, an interesting discussion began when he was asked about the future of small-town America. He described the changes in his hometown of Coshocton, Ohio, as heartbreaking. Industries lost, jobs gone, the fabric of society changed—probably forever.

Cities big and small have experienced a lot of change since the “great recession” and something that really troubles Burris is that politicians don’t seem to care. Financial aid that could boost communities isn’t there anymore.

Ohio and Michigan communities alike have seen changes in state funding in recent years as the solution to every problem seems to be another tax cut. Decisions in state capitol buildings appears to have changed from smart to reactionary as states compete to be the cheapest with the lowest taxes. 

That might make sense in Lansing and Columbus, but those on the receiving end know that it only leads to less revenue. It’s just a shift in funding as citizens are forced to cover the cost themselves or do without. In the meantime, infrastructure deteriorates and services are cut. Roads and bridges remain in need of repair, and schools operate without sufficient funding. At the local level, for example, Morenci no longer has brush collection and those without pickup trucks are stuck with their sticks.

Burris would like to see something like an economic Marshall Plan to help smaller communities remain viable and not turn into ghost towns. The first step is to get politicians to take note of the challenges, then take an interest. If Michigan’s school funding is any indication of how that might go, don’t expect any change. That brings nothing but a continual challenge of being forced to do more with less, and expecting better results.

As Burris says, the politicians don’t seem to care.