Fort Scott is a small community about 1.5 hours South of Kansas City. The city itself has about 7,000 residence and it is the seat for Bourbon county so a good deal of the rural population relies on the town. It has been interesting to watch how a small town in rural America behaves and tries to get things done. Money of course is always in short supply so the basic method of funding projects is by raising taxes. Unfortunately this has been going on for a long time and Fort Scott now has a sales tax that is as high or higher than Texas. Not that there is anything wrong with Texas, but down South they have decided to use sales tax instead of an income tax. Fort Scott has the high sales tax and a state income tax. In Fort Scott’s defense, much of the sales tax problem comes from the state level and leaves the city and the county with very little room to work.
What is most disappointing is how much effort and money gets spent on maintaining the status quo instead of doing something new. If everyone were happy with the current status, then that would be one thing, but a lot of money goes into maintaining things that everyone agrees are broken to start with. Education in Fort Scott is a good example. Funding has been cut, but both the USD234 school system and the Fort Scott Community college aren’t making any fundamental changes to the way they handle education. Instead they are simply raising the taxes on the community. As far as the property taxes go, I’m not too concerned about how high they are other than the fact that some people might not choose to live in Fort Scott because the higher the taxes the higher it costs to live here. I am concerned that the ability to just take more money from people in the community makes it a lot easier for Fort Scott educational institutions to simply preserve what they have been doing in the past instead of innovating and adapting to new levels of funding, new technologies and new student needs.
On of the bright spots in Fort Scott is the airport. It is small and progress is slow, but they have an incredible manager who is getting things done and bringing in grants, planes and people who will spend money in the city. Last summer he was able to get a formation clinic to use the airport for a week. The airport sold a lot of fuel. Hotels had a lot of rooms booked, restaurants sold a lot of meals and the city collected a lot of sales tax.
One thing that is going to increasingly become a problem in Fort Scott is the lack of affordable bandwidth. Right now the only way to really get bandwidth in Fort Scott is through AT&T and it is very expensive. There isn’t any real competition. There are several fiber runs from large providers, but they just go right through town without any type of connection point. Without inexpensive bandwidth, it is always going to be difficult to get reliable and affordable connections to homes and businesses. There is a group trying to increase broadband access, but at the last meeting they announced that they had decided to forgo any type of five year plan and instead just want to talk to a bunch of venders and get them to cooperate.
The problems in Fort Scott are probably the same issues that are hurting small towns across the US. I believe there are solutions and ways to make small communities grow and thrive, but the pace of change makes it very difficult to try new things on any type of time scale where it is possible to learn and adapt.