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City by city, a numbers game

| December 12, 2010 8:00 PM

Nobody can put a price tag on quality of life.

But you sure can have some fun making guesstimates.

Today The Press begins a series exploring just one aspect of what quality of life costs in your community. Quite informally, we've taken the amount of tax dollars your city intends to spend this fiscal year and divided it by that city's estimated current population. The quotient is roughly what that city spends per resident.

We admit up front that this simple arithmetic doesn't tell the whole story. For example, some readers will compare what Coeur d'Alene spends versus, say, what Huetter spends on a per-resident basis. In looking beyond the numbers, keep in mind that Coeur d'Alene has vast infrastructure to support, a spectacular public library free for anyone to use and almost as many parks as Huetter's got full-time residents.

On the other hand, some have complained that Coeur d'Alene has not done enough to keep the burden on its taxpayers minimal. Critics say the city pays exorbitant salaries - six figures for the director of parks and for the director of recreation, for instance - and routinely authorizes non-staff expense when elsewhere, others are cutting back. Supporters argue that you get what you pay for and, in the case for Coeur d'Alene, it's one of the best places anyone could live.

This nobody can argue: Municipalities spend what they take in. Show us a city that spends a lot on its citizens and we'll show you one that collects a lot, too.

Our series looks at Kootenai County municipalities large and small. It goes beyond the recently determined levy amounts for all taxing entities. We've interviewed not just people who decide how those tax dollars are spent, but people whose tax dollars are being collected.

Comparisons are inevitable, we know, but we remind readers to consider the plusses and minuses each city affords its residents in hopes that that will help explain the numbers.

And if the numbers don't add up to the picture you see before you? Then you have some fodder for discussion and decision-making, from writing a letter to the editor to voting for somebody else in the next municipal election.

Numbers never tell the whole story, but they're a great way to begin one.

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