My View: Red alert for all Boone County taxpayers
SundayPosted Nov 6, 2016 at 4:39 PM Updated Nov 6, 2016 at 4:39 PM
By Cathy Ward
Once again, the Boone County Finance Committee is proposing to raid its public safety sales tax revenues to balance the budget -- this time grabbing $1.4 million of those revenues. Last year the raid was $800,000.
The current deficit reported Nov. 2 was $1.9 million. To close the gap, the committee Tuesday proposed spending $1.4 million of those funds, ask all departments to cut their budgets by 2 percent, cut various levies by the tune of $300,000, and hopefully seek another 2 percent spending for the 2017 fiscal year that begins Dec. 1.
Chairman Bob Walberg, who has consistently supported using public safety sales tax revenues to balance the budget, suggested a 5 percent cut of mostly public safety departments, including sheriff, jail, state's attorney, etc., noting that's the bulk of the budget (51 percent), but Sheriff Dave Ernest strongly opposed those cuts. Ernest argued that if the board planned to use $1.4 million in public safety sales tax revenues, the public might rightly expect that money will be used for public safety.
The Finance Committee, composed of Chairman Karl Johnson, Sherry Giesecke, Jeff Carlisle, Jessica Muellner and Cory Lind, vetoed Walberg's 5 percent cut, but unanimously agreed to using $1.4 million of public safety sales tax money, the 2 percent cuts of all departments and reduction of the levies.
For the record, when the public safety sales tax was passed in 1999, board members and other supporters promised the tax would "finance bond payments only." Other costs, they added "related to the jail expansion, will be financed by county general operating funds, and/or grants. The statue allows the county to sunset (end) the tax when the bonds are paid." That was to be paid off in 2018.
But all those promised were negated a couple years ago when the majority of the board voted to delete the clause that said the tax would end when the bonds were paid off.
With that change, proposed by former board member Paul Larson, the tax can go forever and taxpayers will not have any chance to halt the tax or expenditures from that fund.
Time is running out for a budget deadline. A budget must be passed by Dec. 1, or all payments must be stopped for salaries or other expenditures. The Finance Committee will meet again Tuesday to further review any changes in revenues. Usually the budget is ready for public review in mid-October.
I submit this proposal is simply a quick fix, a broken promise and a Band-Aid approach to the much bigger problem. The county is simply spending far more than it can afford. Next year, the deficit gap will likely be much bigger and once again the public safety sales tax will not be enough too fill the ever widening gap.
My associates (taxpayer friends) have given many options for balancing the budget. It's truly a shame this same board strongly opposed a plan to bring wind farms to the county, which would have brought millions of dollars of revenue to all taxing bodies. The county also owns extra land it can sell and agencies we can stop funding like Growth Dimensions, which will not allow anyone in the public to attend their meetings.
I also believe we made a tremendous mistake with our divorce from the city of Belvidere with our planning department. It's costing us far more as a stand-alone agency. We need to join with city and townships on each and every service when possible.
I have long recommended we ask our taxpayers if they want us to use the public safety sales tax to balance the budget. It's their money. Unfortunately that idea has never been seriously considered. Previous boards before Walberg, insisted the public safety sales tax usage be reduced and stopped as promised in 2018. If that plan had been followed for the past eight years, gradual cuts could have been made. Now the cuts are getting harder.
Please note, the county still owes $1.7 million for the jail built in 2000 which cost about $9 million, even though we have collected more than $20 million in that tax. No wonder some of our taxpayers are scratching their heads and some are down right angry.
There is a price to be paid. I believe it will be very hard for any board in our county to pass any referendum. It's almost impossible to gain back trust once it is lost. Broken promises never, ever work well.
Cathy Ward is a member of the Boone County Board.
Above is from: http://www.journalstandard.com/opinion/20161106/my-view-red-alert-for-all-boone-county-taxpayers OR http://www.rrstar.com/opinion/20161106/my-view-red-alert-for-all-boone-county-taxpayers