August 15, 2012 | LXXII, No. 20

Towns may discover divorce is messy

Sometimes they’re necessary, but anyone who has been through a divorce, as two local municipalities are considering, can tell you how much tougher it becomes when there is no one with whom to split life’s workload.

Childcare and laundry duties, lawn mowing, paying bills and more all fall to each person separately, effectively doubling the load on each former member of the marriage.

That’s a cold economist’s way of looking at divorce, and it’s quite appropriate when considering a split between two towns formerly able to cooperate to more efficiently provide services to citizens.

Elmer City decided last week to split the sheets with Coulee Dam over the latter’s refusal to listen to pleas to downsize their joint treatment facility upgrade plans. The move will reduce the customer base to pay for those upgrades by about 22 percent, boosting costs even further on Coulee Dam residents already set to pay double.

Elmer City’s leaders seek a better outcome in a coupling with tribal and federal financing for its own, smaller plant.

But if our analogy holds, the smaller town may also discover as many problems as solutions associated with her newfound freedom.

From an overall economics standpoint, this solution represents the opposite of progress. Nearly doubling the infrastructure required to serve the same number of people, no matter how it’s financed, cannot be seen as any more efficient than a messy divorce that leaves everyone worse off.

Scott Hunter

editor and publisher

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