Boon or boondoggle
February 20, 2013
The soon-to-be community center a boon to the community? Or boondangle? Some think it should have been placed on a ballot for a vote. Or built through private efforts, like the existing senior center. Some think an economy forcing numerous local governments into bankruptcy, with no discernible light on the horizon, is not a good time to start a nonessential $19 million project.
Financing is primarily via county bonds repaid by a half percent tax on our gas, electric, and cell phone bills. It’s only a small fee so everyone can afford it, right? The legislature in its infinite wisdom some time ago authorized counties to assess up to 5 percent fee on those utilities, without our approval. County leaders are proud they haven’t grabbed the full 5 percent. Yet.
The $3.5 million of financing is diverted from a county fund called medical assistance to indigents, a factor in our property taxes by state law. That fund currently has more than $5 million reserved for indigent care, while historically payouts average about 65 percent of tax collected. The rationale is if they didn’t find a productive use for the money the state might steal it, and since indigent services will be moved to the Community Center, it makes sense to divert the money to the building, no? Give the excess back to taxpayers? Ludicrous.
The $3.5 million is 18 percent of the project cost. Indigent care will commandeer less floor space than 18 percent, but county officials wouldn’t consider such practical correlation. They’ve got our money, so like government everywhere they’ll do with it whatever they can justify as remotely connected with indigent care. They might consider reducing future property taxes to avoid future accumulation of cash. Yeah. Right.
Fervid community/senior center proponents and commissioners don’t care, so long as they get their building. For commissioners it’s one more noisy special interest group out of their hair. Who are they? Mostly seniors consuming 200 daily low-cost senior center lunches and related county employees who think a new facility could feed another 100 or more seniors. If we build it they will come?
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Commissioners expressed a lack of faith that voters know what’s best for them, so they did what time-honored government likes to do, “taking the hard decision” that their constituents expect, taxing the public for the common good whether a majority agrees or not. The standard government way. Will most residents like it? We’ll never know, will we?
When challenged at the commission hearing, commissioners Lynn and Johnson lamely conceded that they themselves opposed previous attempts to approve a community/senior center, but hastened to note that those previous projects though much less expensive were flawed, while this one was suitable for bypassing voters. A Record-Courier editorial while expressing that taxpayers should normally decide whether they want to be gouged for a good cause, in this case joined the special interests in commending commissioners for their decision. Some might be unhappy with this letter. But somebody has to write it.
Jack Van Dien