Guest view: Want to borrow, Madison County? Get voter approval

September 14, 2013 

When President Barack Obama pressed to strike in Syria, national surveys showed him swimming against the current of public opinion. Most Americans disagreed with the president's strategy to strike, and many took action by letting their elected leaders know how they felt.

Whether it's federal or local, the public's opinion should always be considered. Why? Because it costs the taxpayer.

On Aug. 28, Madison County unveiled a jail renovation project. The current jail was built in 1980 and was enlarged in 1983 and 1994. The jail has passed annual state inspections, and the proposed renovation will not add to the current 300-bed capacity. The presentation claims that the infrastructure of the jail is "falling apart."

Recently the Finance Committee voted in favor of the plan. The cost: $18 million. The catch: a back-door referendum, which means the money will be borrowed -- and spent --without voter approval.

Have the voters had time to evaluate the condition of the jail? Have the voters had time to consider the plan?

Assuming the jail is falling apart and needs an $18 million fix, the big question is: Why is it necessary to borrow the funds without public approval? Why bypass the electorate?

During the recent Finance Committee meeting, a County Board member, who is not on the seven-member panel, asked how much the bond would increase the tax levy and what the increase would cost the taxpayers. She was scolded by another board member and told that if she had questions, she should have asked them prior to the meeting.

The County Board member said she did try asking prior to the meeting and was told to ask the Finance Committee. Her questions never did get answered. Why? How much does the bond increase taxes? What will it cost you, the taxpayer?

In Missouri and many other states it would be illegal to bypass the voters, and this bond issue would have to be approved at the ballot box.

This proposal -- to borrow and spend $18 million without voter approval -- is possible only by taking advantage of a loophole in Illinois law.

The County Board is expected to vote on this issue Wednesday.

Don't you think the public should be put back into public finance? A bond is secured with real estate taxes. Should the public have a say so if their taxes will increase? This issue isn't about the need to borrow the money. It's about getting public approval in borrowing money.

Kurt Prenzler, a CPA, is treasurer of Madison County.

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