2017-02-02 / Views

People voting with wallets for projects

If results are the prime measure of success, we expect that online fundraising efforts by local governments are here to stay.

And why not? Leland will soon buy a dredger to keep its harbor open, and Nico the police dog will soon have a lifetime supply of food — along with a variety of nutritious treats, we assume.

It’s been a bit of a shock how quickly and how often the causes, which would normally be funded through the general funds of local governments, have been embraced by residents willing to open their wallets. We understand the support shown for Nico — who can turn a wet nose on a loving dog? — but buying and maintaining a dredging machine hardly falls into the “warm and fuzzy” file. And it comes with a $500,000 pricetag, including training. (The Leland Township Harbor Commission is contributing $300,000 toward the total.)

Recall that at one time federal funds paid to dredge the mouth of the harbor, which clogs with sifting sands every winter. When federal sources dried up, donations were sought from civic-minded people and groups — which got the job done.

But walking around with hands out every winter is hardly a reliable way to fund an essential vessel for public commerce.

Judging by results, through, setting up a Fundly account may be the answer.

The largest dredging donation came from Dick and Staci Stephenson, who have offered up to $50,000. They are in the process of building a massive home on north Lake Leelanau.

Mr. Stephenson is a strong believer in limited government, so we don’t know how he might vote on a millage seeking to raise property taxes for the dredge. His family has a long lineage in the county, and the Stephensons are known to have generous pocket books when it comes to helping with community projects. So in a sense they are voting through their donation for the dredge, and against higher taxes.

In the case of Nico, someone has anonymously offered to match local donations up to $10,000. Would that same person be just as happy paying higher taxes to fund all of Leelanau County government?

Hard to say.

But certainly private donations are certainly getting things done in Leelanau County.

At a simplistic level, providing an opportunity for private citizens to voluntarily fund public projects can be seen as democracy in a pure form. Let the people themselves decide what services they want their governments to provide. And let them vote with their Visa cards.

At a deeper level, though, comes a concern that government’s bidding could become overly influenced by those with money. Good public policy may not always align with the results of online donations.

The concern has little to do with likable Nico or even a nondescript dredger needed to keep the Leland Harbor open for business. So thank you to all who have contributed.

It will soon be up to local governments to use the funds wisely.

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