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Right-wing fuzzy math and the true cost of local government

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 4:59 a.m. CDT

To the Editor:

Candidates for Grundy County Board recently submitted a series of answers to questions listed on the Morris Daily Herald Election Central webpage (http://elections.morrisdailyherald.com). Candidates were questioned on recent decisions by the board with which they most disagree, what the county can do to control expenses, and toughest challenges facing the county, just to name a few.

One recurring grievance expressed by many Republican candidates was the county’s issuance of bonds to construct a series of government buildings in the county. The building that tops the list in their grievances is the 9-1-1 center. Some of the candidates indicated that this 9-1-1 center cost the taxpayers $20 million, and one candidate noted that the center was “millions of dollars over budget” and represented “irresponsible spending.”

The story of the bond issuance and building projects began when the Highway Department maintenance garage burnt to the ground in a massive fire in late 2007, causing over $2 million in damages, including lost equipment and Highway Department offices. The board decided to rebuild.

In addition to the Highway Department rebuild, the courthouse required numerous upgrades, including a new judge’s chamber for an additional judge coming on board, asbestos abatement, and providing hot water to the second floor restrooms, among other repairs. Also, the 9-1-1 equipment was housed in a closet with an above-acceptable risk of failure.

To address these infrastructure/public welfare needs, and with a series of year-2000 bonds paying off, the county board decided to maintain the current tax levy (citizens county levy portion of their property taxes would stay flat) and float $10 million in bonds in 2008, and an additional bond issuance for $2.6 million in 2010.

The 2010 series of bonds were under the economic stimulus plan, where 45 percent of the interest is reimbursed back to the county from the federal government. That was a total of $12.6 million. The total cost of these bond issues, along with interest over 20 years amounted to $20 million.

So of that $12.6 million, how much was the 9-1-1 center? The bid amount was $4,727,465 and the final draw (the amount actually paid) was $4,607,478. So much for being “millions over budget.” It actually came in $120,000 under budget.

And how does the total bond issue and building project impact the taxpayer? Consider that the county levy on the average property tax bill is approximately $550 a year (the majority of taxes go toward the schools). Remembering that the bonds did not increase taxes due to older bonds paying off, and the total impact of the annual principal and interest payment on the bonds this past year was 2 percent of the total annual budget, that means of the $550/year on the average tax bill, $11 (or 91 cents a month) pays for all those building projects.

Breaking it down even further, the 9-1-1 center cost the average taxpayer $3.30 a year, or 27 cents a month.

If the republicans running for county board believe that paying 27 cents a month for a future-proof, state-of-the-art emergency response center, which may help save the life of someone’s loved one, is “irresponsible spending,” then maybe the welfare of the public is not one of their priorities. Maybe they are pandering to their small-government-at-all-cost base for cheap political points.

Providing for the public safety and welfare for 27 cents a month on the average tax bill is the type of leadership Grundy County voters should be demanding from every politician.

Something to also keep in mind, the 9-1-1 center’s size and capabilities is also turning into a revenue generator. Various entities are looking at utilizing the facility, such as Seneca Fire, Police and Emergency Services, and Braidwood Police. While still in the works, these deals will provide entry fees of approximately $200,000, with no new personnel needed. Also, with the State Police reducing districts and revamping communication needs, they may also utilize our facility, which will include rental fee revenue to the county.

The declaration that the 9-1-1 center was “millions over budget” and cost the county taxpayers $20 million is nothing short of pure fiction. Either these republican candidates are uninformed of the facts behind the bond issuance and the 9-1-1 center’s true costs, or they are purposely misleading the voters for personal gain. The first option speaks to qualification, the second to integrity.

This coming Nov. 6, let’s send honest brokers with the forward-thinking leadership abilities, knowledge and integrity our county citizens deserve. 

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