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Monroe in decline

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OK. I'll ask the question again: just what kind of community do we want?

                  You've read the news. To make ends meet, County Exec Jack Doyle is going to lay off hundreds of county employees and eliminate hundreds of vacant positions.

                  He's cutting funding for agencies that help people get jobs and move off welfare. He's making major cuts in funding for arts organizations --- in some cases, eliminating the county's funding altogether.

                  He wants to close Ontario Beach next year. He wants to close all parks on weekdays.

                  Doyle's plan --- described in Sunday's Democrat and Chronicle as "strong" and "strategic and thoughtful" --- has some wonderfully comic aspects. While he's closing the parks themselves, he's keeping the zoo (in Seneca Park) and all three county golf courses (in Genesee Valley, Durand Eastman, and Churchville) open.

                  For Monroe County Republicans, this has got to be a public-relations nightmare. Just think of the Democrats' ads:

                  "Jack Doyle is improving the clubhouse for golfers in Durand Eastman Park. But he won't let you walk Durand's trails during the week --- or swim at the beach in Charlotte."

                  "Jack Doyle wants to pave part of Seneca Park for a parking lot so you can go to the zoo. But if you want to have a picnic elsewhere in the park, he has locked you out."

                  "Jack Doyle is using the county's tobacco-settlement money for big new buildings. But he's cutting the county's funding for an anti-smoking program by 50 percent."

The county's money problems and Doyle's solutions are serious business, of course. Doyle wants to merge several social-services departments. That may be a good idea. But the public needs to know what the effect will be on services. Doyle says the merger could save $30 million next year. If the county can do that and, as he says, "provide better customer service," why hasn't he done merged the departments before now?

                  What's the effect of all these cutbacks on the poor and the elderly? And what does the Doyle plan do to the quality of life for all of us?

                  What it does to the county's economic development efforts? What kind of community are we trying to attract businesses to? A Rochester with downsized arts organizations? A city on a lake --- with no public beach?

In fairness to Doyle, he had no control over some of the pressures that led to this mess. He didn't create the recession that cut sales-tax receipts and investment income.

                  In its expenses, the county often doesn't have a lot of wiggle room. Many of the county's services are mandated. And as Doyle points out, counties throughout the state are having budget problems.

                  But here's where leadership comes in. Doyle describes his new plan as the Property Tax Stability Plan. That says it all. County property taxes have been flat for 10 years, and Doyle plans to keep them flat, no matter what the effect. That's the extent of his vision for the Community of Monroe. That's the extent of his leadership.

                  (Note, of course, that while county taxes have been kept flat, quite a few towns, villages, and school districts have had to raise taxes in those 10 years, as has the City of Rochester. That will likely continue: Doyle wants to cut the county's funding for road maintenance in the towns, for instance. That passes the pain down to town residents.)

                  Raising taxes needlessly is one thing. Raising them to improve the quality of life, to make the community attractive for new business, is quite another.

                  In his obsession with flat taxes, Doyle has made the county's problems worse than they had to be. He could have been a strong leader. He could have convinced voters that regular, modest tax increases were prudent investments. He did not, and we see the result.

                  Doyle and his supporters have had a peanut-sized vision for the community. And they have had little confidence in the public's willingness to sacrifice for the common good. In the past, this county and its people have dreamed much bigger dreams. And even now, we may have more vision, courage, and compassion than Doyle gives us credit for.

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