Bake sale democracy? Carroll County: Union Bridge's municipal reliance on fund-raisers wouldn't work for all

October 02, 1995

TO THE RESIDENTS of Union Bridge, financing a new town hall through festive fund-raisers is preferable to raising taxes.

The events build community spirit and townspeople can see the fruits of their labors.

Moreover, working together with neighbors toward a common goal is more satisfying than writing out a check to the taxman.

But there is a drawback to this voluntary approach. Pancake breakfasts, bake sales, Tupperware parties and gun raffles require a great deal of work, and the burden is rarely, if ever, evenly distributed.

Union Bridge, with a population of slightly more than 900 people, borrowed $200,000 two years ago to pay for a new town hall. Instead of issuing long-term bonds, the town council and mayor decided to take out a 20-year mortgage from a commercial bank. They also decided that the town would repay the loan through volunteer fund-raising efforts.

So far, the effort has been exceptionally successful. The town is about three years ahead of its payment schedule, thus lowering the amount of outstanding principal and, as a consequence, the amount of interest.

However, it has been done at considerable cost to the town's volunteers. To stage their pancake breakfasts, they have to get up at 2 in the morning and work 10 hours. Organizing the town's annual picnic takes hours of preparation. They are looking at 16 more years of peeling potatoes and frying bacon before dawn.

Much of the work has been handled by 15 members of the town's fund-raising committee and a corps of 75 volunteers.

These dedicated folks don't mind donating their time on the municipality's behalf or even shouldering most of the burden while their neighbors all enjoy the benefits of their labors. This method of finance will succeed only so long as the volunteers hold out.

If anything good can be said about taxation, the burden falls on everyone. Bake sales may be great ways to raise money to send a school band to the Rose Bowl or a class to Williamsburg, but only special towns like Union Bridge can actually rely on volunteerism to pay the bill for government services. In most places, people will avoid volunteering as eagerly as they would like to avoid taxes.

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