With this downturning economy, even governments are having a hard time. My own city is facing at least a $4 million dollar decrease in revenues, and my state is facing more than $140 million in shortfalls.
One alternative to getting out of the situation is to raise taxes, a solution that no one likes. Thus, the monetary shortfall means service cuts. I would be hard pressed to choose which city or state service to sacrifice. Should we have fewer teachers in schools or fewer police officers on patrol? Or perhaps less maintenance in the parks or fewer jobs for government workers?
What are public services worth to you?
Have you considered what these cuts would mean to you? I hadn’t thought about it much until I ran across a neat tool on my public library’s website called the Library Value Calculator. This tool asked me to enter the number of items I checked out and the total number of hours I used other services the library provides, such as attending talks and talking to the librarians. My total was a whopping $1200 per month. Although I already pay for these services with my taxes, I know that if there were no library I would still either rent or buy much of what I borrow from the library. My share of the tax burden as compared to what I would pay out-of-pocket is a good deal for my family.
This got me to thinking about the other services I enjoy in addition to the library – such as the city parks and the low-cost classes offered through the city.
For instance, we visit at least one park a week. Sometimes we hike in the city park in the hills, while other times we visit the playground for a few hours. Whatever we do, it is something that is readily available because the city provided it. My out-of-pocket cost to install a playground in our backyard is a one-time expense of about $600, not including labor, for a smallish play structure for our smallish yard. In contrast, we are able to walk about a mile in almost any direction to five playgrounds for the cost of a few dollars every year in taxes.
Finally, the low-cost classes offered through our city are varied, interesting and just plain cheap. Take, for instance, my daughter’s ballet/tap class from this Fall. It was $5 per weekly class. In contrast, the lovely, private dance studio I also considered required a greater time commitment, a longer drive in the car, and a greater financial commitment of $10 a class.
Save your favorite cause some money
This made me realize I would really miss the savings of these city services if they were gone. What could I do to help shore them up against the upcoming cuts? Volunteer!
Yes, volunteers work for free, but also consider how much money a volunteer saves the business or agency for every hour he or she works. The NonProfit Times states that for every hour a volunteer works, it’s worth three times that of minimum wage. In my state, that’s just a tick more than $17 an hour. Even if you only volunteer for an hour a week, in my state that’s worth about $70 a month that taxpayers didn’t have to fund. Over a year, that is more than $800 that has been saved in payroll costs.
It is also a lot easier find volunteer opportunities than it used to be, thanks to the Internet. From the comfort of my own home, I was able to visit my city’s website and search for “volunteer.” Opportunities at the library, police department and the parks were among those on the first page of results. Repeating that search on my state’s website also yielded numerous volunteer opportunities as well.
What’s in it for me?
Volunteering, whether for your city’s government or another cause of your choice, can benefit you too. For one, you get to choose where you want to volunteer. Maybe you’ve always been fascinated with the police and find an opportunity to volunteer for them. You’re likely to be highly motivated to help the police, which benefit both parties: the police are happy to have a motivated person helping out, and you’re happy to have interesting work.
Volunteering can also be a great way to gain additional skills, whether it is practicing your current skill set or learning an entirely new one – such as how to bind books in the library. These new or improved skills could benefit you in your regular job, or perhaps even lead to a new one.
Volunteering is also a great chance to meet people you may not have met before. These people could lead to new financial opportunities, a new job or just turn into good friends.
Finally, volunteering just feels really good. As Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”