The March 17 News Tribune article on the council's discussion about essential city services was very instructive.
The primary issue seems to evolve on the definition of essential services, and the city administrator accurately pointed out that "(what is) essential to one person may not be essential at all to another person" and subsequently "(what is essential) is often determined by council priorities." This is as it should be; otherwise there would be no need for the elections of council members with different life experiences, views and priorities.
Yet council people, as human beings, want to be of assistance to others, want to serve their constituents, and like all of us they appreciate shiny new things. Yet since the council - as a properly constituted governmental body - has the power to tax and regulate, it is incumbent on the people to limit what does and does not fall within its purview for deliberation.
Mia Love, who spoke at the Republican National Convention last year, served in the Saratoga Springs City Council for six years and is now mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah. She noted that when she was council woman she would ask herself three questions: "is it affordable, is it sustainable, and is it my job?"
In determining what is essential, it might be helpful to consider the classical definition of a public good: a public good is that which is "non-rivalrous in its consumption and non-excludable in its distribution." Advances in technology and business practices have done much to crater these definitions, but they can still make solid contributions to determining what does and does not fall within the purview of the council's duties and responsibilities.
The council should serve as a "court of last resort" not as a catalyst for whatever social goods or projects might be conjured up. And in its deliberations, the council might always note that whenever it invokes its authority as a governmental body to create or enforce legislation, regulations, or taxation it diminishes freedom.
A taxpayer or household will always be wiser and more effective in the use of their income, a business will always be wiser and more effective in the use of its revenue, and voluntary organizations and non-governmental groups will always be wiser and more effective in the use of their talents and resources. These will always be more respectful of the public good than a governmental body.