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our view Exchange sites show service to taxpayers

December 2, 2018

The best idea in local government this year goes to Groves, even though that town didn’t come up with it first. The Mid-County city is believed to be the only one in Southeast Texas to provide an official exchange site for people getting packages from strangers or for parents transferring children when custody is contentious. It’s simple, and it represents the kind of service-oriented philosophy that local governments should emphasize.

For the price of a few video cameras and a couple of signs, Groves residents are a little safer. The city designated a portion of the parking lot by the police station as an “internet purchase and child custody exchange location.” It’s under constant surveillance, and police officers are just inside the building.

Now, when a parent involved in an unpleasant custody battle has to meet his or her ex, the tension level is reduced. Or if you want to get that package of shirts or flower pots you bought from someone online, your chances of being robbed or assaulted just went way down.

In fact, people led government on this issue. Groves police Marshal Norman Reynolds said some parents were already handing off children the parking lot informally — because it’s a police station, after all. The city realized it should formalize the concept and make it safer.

Every city in the region should have something like this, and larger towns like Beaumont and Port Arthur could use a couple. Again, the cost is not much, probably $1,000 or $2,000 per site. For cities and counties with multimillion-dollar budgets, that’s affordable, and it provides great bang for the buck. In many cities, parking lots by police stations and other official buildings are already under video surveillance.

The larger point is getting people more return on their tax dollars, doing more than just the bare minimum.

In downtown Port Arthur, the Department of Public Safety office for driver’s license renewals and other basic business will finally return to full hours on Dec. 11. It had been open for about half of that schedule, and that service disruption was inexcusable.

State officials said the office didn’t have enough staff for full hours, but this is a fundamental responsibility of a major state agency. This region has only three such offices, one each in Port Arthur, Orange and Beaumont. Long lines are common, and the problem was made worse by the partial shutdown in Port Arthur.

In 2015, state officials made a big point of sending 500 DPS troopers to the Mexican border to help stop illegal immigration, even though the federal government employs thousands of Border Patrol agents for that very purpose. Some of those troopers could have served taxpayers better in other parts of Texas — like the DPS office in Port Arthur.

Taxpayers don’t expect miracles from government at any level, but they should receive the best possible service and respect at all times. The exchange sites show how that can be done better and more creatively.

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