Save money with public services

The jubilation in the reopening of at least part of the Galleria at Roseville is understandable, given the state of the area’s economy and the overreliance of government on retail sales-tax receipts for its operating budget. We’re glad that some of the shops were able to reopen this week, and that most of the rest will be following. Who doesn’t love to grab a sticky roll from Cinnabon and people-watch during the holiday shopping season?

We’re also really, truly happy that no one was injured—not in the initial incident, not in fighting the fire, and, so far, not in the cleanup and rebuilding. Unless, of course, you count the young man who sought help for his mental illness—according to news reports—on four separate occasions immediately preceding the fire he’s alleged to have set in the mall. Where was the help he needed, help that might have prevented the entire series of events, including the loss of roughly $12,000 per day in tax receipts for the city of Roseville?

Providing adequate, immediate and compassionate care for a young man with mental-health issues might have been significantly less expensive to the community at large than the cost of the police, fire and recovery operations will be. The extra change in increased taxes to fully support mental-health services in the region might have spared the hundreds of employees who were out of work for at least a week, not to mention the danger that firefighters, police and security guards were exposed to in dealing with this crisis.

It’s entirely possible that none of the Galleria workers, the emergency responders, or even the corporate owners or city residents thought they needed to have accessible, comprehensive mental-health services available for the uninsured.

But they did. And the failure to provide those services has cost a lot of money, both public and private.

The cost of the fire at the Galleria is a classic example of the old axiom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The willingness to provide public services for those who cannot care for themselves isn’t a “job killer,” or a “tax-and-spend,” “bleeding-heart liberal boondoggle.”

In fact, providing public health services, including mental-health services, provides and secures jobs, helps the economy, and keeps cities running smoothly. Think about the cost to the entire community—including businesses, both large and small—of this fire. Then, the next time the city or the county is considering a budget item to provide public services to people with mental-health issues, remember how much money could have been saved and how much damage completely avoided if one young man had had access to those services.

If you want to build a strong economy and save jobs, supporting public health makes financial sense.