Tuesday, August 6, 2013

SENATUS POPULUSQUE MARICOPUS

Okay, so, we make this big decision to move. In retrospect it was inevitable, but at the time it was a very difficult and big choice to make. After all, our families live in Tucson and Da Wife and I grew up there. Hell, I was born there! Still, we had to make the big leap.

Once the decision was made, I, like I’m sure a lot of people transitioning to a new area, conducted a little research about the area. I’d already had a fair amount of it under my belt, thanks to some freelance work I’d done in the past, but I wanted to focus on my specific area, to get as much information as I could in case I missed anything in the past.

One of the first things I found made me think I hit pay dirt. It turns out that Queen Creek, the town just north of San Tan Valley where we moved, has a very nice public library that any town of its size can be proud to have. As a writer I’m sure you can understand how this got me hot and bothered, but as a parent I also knew this would be a great place for Da Boys. In the manic whirlwind of the move we hadn’t even gotten around to building a summer reading list for the boys, and all the kids activities would have done a great job in rounding out the couple months of summer vacation until school started.

Would have. That’s right. I said, “Would have.”

As we approached the building I noted how nice it looked. Granted, I prefer classical motifs in architecture, but the library, while contemporary, didn’t seem to me to have that sterile slapped-on look like so many other new buildings. It actually gave me a vibrant, energetic feeling I found exciting. I just couldn’t wait to get inside!

Don’t get me wrong, this was no Main Branch of the New York Public Library System. I’m pretty sure the whole building could fit inside one of that library’s reading rooms. Still, especially for a town of this size it definitely was something of which to be proud. So, feeling frisky I lead Da Boys, who were feeling decidedly less so, into our first big adventure, the first stop being, of course, getting us all library cards.

That, in usual fashion, is where the bottom dropped out.

It’s time for a little local history lesson.

At some point in the recent past, San Tan Valley was actually part of Queen Creek. According to what I could find out so far, a bone of contention arose between San Tan and the rest of the town. I’m not sure if it was a series of issues or one big one, but in the end San Tan broke away from their cruel QC overlords, and to this day remains an unincorporated area in the northwestern region of Pinal County, while still technically remaining a part of the Phoenix Metro Area, at its extreme southeastern tip. It is important to note that most of the Metro Area sits in Maricopa County, for reasons that will soon become very clear.

So, the boys and I walked up to the main help desk and asked to get said cards. The librarian was all-too eager to help us, even when she found out that we lived in San Tan Valley, when she told us of the $60 annual registration fee.

That’s right. $60. Annual. As in I’d have to pay every year to go there.

Imagine this: I’m standing in a public building, financed by public funds, that should allow public access free-of-charge, in the United States of America, and I was being told I needed to fork over 60 bucks in order to enjoy any of its resources and services.

The reason, I was told, was because the Queen Creek Library was part of the Maricopa County Library District and funded by MCLP resources (ie, PUBLIC RESOURCES), and because San Tan Valley (where we live) sits inside Pinal County I had to pay the aforementioned 60 smackroos. It was free of course, but only to Maricopa County residents.

Nevermind that the Maricopa/Pinal County border is maybe five minutes south of the library, or that San Tan Valley, a bedroom community, is largely a residential area made up of thousands of people, many of whom might want access to a well-equipped library like this one.

As an incentive, the librarian told me the nearest library of its size in Pinal County was in Apache Junction, another half hour drive to the northwest. At least there I could get access free, right?

Granted, the $60 fee at Queen Creek is an annual one, so even broken down my month it only comes to about five bucks (you have to pay the entire amount up front). Still, the point I’m trying to make is, because it is a public resource, I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PAY TO BEGIN WITH!

And I didn’t, partly because of my outrage, but also because, for the sake of full disclosure, we had just moved and had started experiencing acute post-move financial malaise, which for some reason is ongoing. In short, I didn’t have the cash. Still, even if I do it’s the principle of the thing that matters.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t blow up at her or anything. I’ve been in situations like that before and I’ve found there’s nothing more futile than trying to argue with a beaurocracy. She was even very helpful in the end. She informed us that San Tan Valley actually has its own library that, it turned out, is just a stone’s throw, almost literally, from our new house. It turned out to be very small, like two portable buildings small, but it was close to home and we wouldn’t be swindled out of any money by being there.

At the San Tan Library, I struck up a conversation with one of the other visitors while filling out the library card applications. I told her what happened and she said something very revealing. “Yeah,” she advised, “they don’t want our riffraff up there.” Huh!

Well, it may not be big, but at least I feel more honest being there than at Queen Creek. I’ll keep my money and integrity, thank you.

You know though, while I’d probably be hard pressed to find a direct causal relation, I think this brings to light a much bigger and older problem with Arizona. Time for another history lesson.

Okay, not really a lesson. More of an analogy, really. In ancient times, Rome couldn’t care less about its vassal states and provinces as long as the tax money kept rolling in. Drought? Too bad. Give us our money. Faltering economy? Too bad. Give us our money. Revolt? Too bad. Give us our money. Need help? Too bad. Help yourself and give us our money.

Well, for years Phoenix Metro has acted like Ancient Rome and the rest of the state is its empire. You see it every day. Even on the TV on, say, ABC in the mornings, it’s not Good Morning Phoenix or Tempe or Scottsdale. No, it’s Good Morning Arizona, as if the entire state is encapsulated within the confines of Maricopa County and the Valley of the Sun.

That’s why you’ve seen me call the state legislature the Maricopa County State Legislature. Because historically the only people they are going to look out for are those in the immediate area. Granted, a majority of Arizona’s population lives in the Valley of the Sun, but that’s because living almost anywhere in the rest of the state sucks. Limited job markets, struggling economies, incompetent and delusional local governments, and the like. But most of our elected state officials are too busy taking care of their own, while those few representing the rest of the state are either rendered politically impotent or apathetic to the situation.

How do they get away with rendering this state a Maricopa County-only club? I don’t know, but as we saw with the Roman Empire, Arizona has already begun to crumble in the other counties, and it’s only a matter of time before the rot infects Phoenix Metro, too. Attila the Hun, anyone?
 
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